Congestion to cost economy $15bn per year by 2030

According to an article last week in the Australian Financial Review, the Abbott government was unmoved by the arguments of the Tourism and Transport Forum, whose members are urging the government to reconsider its position not to invest in public transport.  The Tourism Transport forum is an industry group of the CEOs of 200 companies in the transport, tourism and infrastructure sectors.  Members met in Canberra to “press the government and opposition on key issues”, and public transport was on the top of the list.

The event coincided with the release of a report by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss containing projections on infrastructure demand, which estimated that sub-optimal energy efficiency and road congestion will cost the economy $15 billion a year by 2030.  The report confirms that driving continues to be the preferred mode of transport within cities, and that “based on current trends, congestion will increase, imposing burdens on those living in Australian cities, those seeking to move goods through Australian cities and to the national economy.”

Despite those predictions, Mr Truss reaffirmed the government’s refusal to budge on the issue of funding.  “That’s a role that the states and local governments can do better”.    He further argued, “By the Commonwealth spending more money on roads and freight rail in the capital cities, the states will have more resources to invest in urban public transport.”

The debate over roads vs public transport is a complex one.  Research in the US dating back to 1962, updated in 2011 by the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics, explored “The law of peak-hour traffic congestion” which hypothesizes that “on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.”   As reported in the Journalist’s Resource, the 2011 research confirmed that “Building new roads and widening existing ones only results in additional traffic that continues to rise until congestion returns to the previous level.  Such attempts to “cure” congestion are thus both expensive and ineffective.”

The former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, (subject of our recent blog post) has opined on this very subject, “Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like putting out a fire with gasoline.”

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