Viv Straw is the President of the Planning Institute Australia (ACT Division). This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring themes derived from Randolph Hester and others, developing an Australian Ecological Democracy theme.
TT: Viv in our first article you talked about four global megatrends, city centre living becoming more popular, technology driving the new economy, a diversity of land uses and the re-emergence of mass transit as an alternative to connecting people to other parts of the city; then you developed the role of vision and Governance: what role does location have in all of this?
VS: No place exists in isolation; every place is connected to its hinterland, other urban areas, food sources and water supplies and to other people and information. How these connections function is fundamental to the liveability and efficiency of the city. The most liveable cities are ones that facilitate freedom of movement and access for everyone.
TT: One of the characteristics of Canberra is that it is incredibly reliant on private transport, how does that affect us?
VS: Well there are four parts to this, the internal connections and the connections with the rest of humanity and resources. But we also need physical connections and telecommunications systems.
Interestingly, the better our electronics communications become, the more we want to be in close physical proximity to each other. It is so much easier today to organise impromptu meetings. It is all about the way we share goods and services.
TT: But, what about our internal physical connections?
VS: Well this is a complex area, but it is vital to get it right. Private transport provides more flexibility than large scale mass transit systems and there are occupations and life circumstances and urban structures that almost dictate the car, bike or walking modes for people. The sealed road is one of the great success stories of the last century, but the car is not available to everyone and there are costs.
On the other hand mass transport systems will not reach into the low density suburbs, but for those who are not interested or capable of owning a car, public transport is essential. It enables people who don’t have direct access to a car, nearly 40% of the population to travel. So the subsidy to public transport can be seen as an input into productivity.
In 2011 we subsidised public transport to the tune of about $3billion, and private car transport to about $17billion. So Transport is subsidised to a total of about $20billion in Australia.
TT: Why do we do that?
VS: Simply our transport systems are used to connect us, and when people connect they are productive. Time spent travelling is lost to production, except that it pushes up demand for fuel and more transport which creates work for the transport industry.
In Canberra we have the freedom to travel free of congestion. But not all of us can, and without public transport many would be isolated and unproductive. T