The Joondalup rail line will soon extend 55 kilometres to Yanchep. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Sprawl costs public transport

Thursday, 1 November, 2018 - 13:08

A national study by Infrastructure Australia has found that Perth residents are among those least likely to use public transport for their daily work commute, despite good accessibility in outer suburbs and subsidies covering about 70 per cent of the cost of a trip.

The federal body’s ‘Outer Urban Public Transport’ report, released in late October, adds to the ongoing debate in Perth about the city’s urban sprawl and the impact on both congestion and transport costs.

Perth has a higher level of cost recovery for public transport than any other Australian city, according to the report, at 30 per cent.

Business News estimates this number has risen to be 32 per cent for the 2019 financial year, with the Public Transport Authority forecasting costs of $1.2 billion and subsidies of $834 million.

That compares to Melbourne, at 28 per cent, and last-placed Adelaide on 21 per cent, according to Infrastructure Australia.

Data from international cities shows Hong Kong has the highest level of cost reflectivity, with 186 per cent, while New Zealand cities Wellington and Auckland are 57 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.

Hong Kong is a famously dense city, while Auckland had about 43 people per hectare compared with Perth’s 30, according to advocacy platform Greater Auckland.

Perth is particularly stretched out, with a distance of about 140 kilometres from Two Rocks to Dawesville.

About 54 per cent of Perth residents live in what Infrastructure Australia defined as ‘outer suburbs’, more than in any other Australian capital.

However, the report also noted that only half of those people lived beyond reasonable walking access to transport, compared with 80 per cent in Brisbane and 42 per cent in Sydney.

Despite this, the data also shows that only 12 per cent of residents in Perth use public transport to head to work, compared with 27 per cent in Sydney and 11 per cent in Adelaide.

Infrastructure Australia highlighted the Mandurah rail line as an example of an investment that successfully encouraged more public transport use, but also warned that many similar projects nationally failed.

“The (Mandurah) line not only added passengers in its own right but, because it expanded the reach of the network, patronage also grew on the other railway lines and bus services that connect with the new railway,” the report said.

“This success occurred despite the line being constructed through largely low-density, car-dominated suburbs.

“Large investments do not always prove to be justified, and there have been numerous transport projects that have not met the patronage projections that were used to justify their construction.

“Furthermore, in areas where ridership is likely to be low and travel patterns are dispersed, travelling by car may be easier for the users and cost the taxpayer less.”