City Conversation: The Big Decision - How to Fix Sydney's Transport - City

(6.30pm, Monday 19 November 2012, Lower Town Hall)

Thank you, Quentin [Dempster MC] and thank you Darren Goodsir [Sydney Morning Herald, Media Partner]. And thank you to Peter Newman, Gail Connolly and to our panel for your contributions.

You've seen the fly-through of how George Street could be; Professor Newman has detailed how Sydney risks being left behind; and Gail Connolly has outlined the fundamental decision before the NSW Government as it considers the two competing transport proposals.

COMPETING PLANS

It's no exaggeration to say we are at a crucial moment for Sydney.

The choices made this year will affect the life and the economy of our city for generations. We have an historic chance to learn from past mistakes and past inaction, to learn from research here and overseas, and to get our transport system right.

Tonight's discussion shows that the way forward is clear.

We need courageous and determined political leadership that responds to the needs of our city's future, not separate state bureaucracies competing for dominance. Indeed, the State Government has merged numerous agencies into Transport for NSW to overcome the wasteful chaos of the past.

Yet Infrastructure New South Wales, when asked to make recommendations on how to prioritise limited public funds, has created its own transport scheme based on motorways and, at best, incremental improvements to public transport.

It also pushed into the distant future projects that need action now.

The evidence from across the globe is that we cannot build our way out of congestion with more motorways.

Sydney's future is grim if the priorities of Infrastructure NSW are implemented.

Increasingly, people are 'voting with their feet' by walking, riding and using public transport more.

Transport for NSW's master plan provides alternatives to growing congestion and is more in keeping with global trends that public support for public transport.

THE GLOBAL (AND SYDNEY) TREND

Peter Newman said that since the turn of the century, public transport patronage in Australian cities in growing faster than car usage.

This reflects US trends, where urban sprawl has slowed, inner area densities are increasing, and travel is shifting from cars to public transport, walking and cycling. The pattern is repeated in other developed countries.

They also note another sign of changing transport habits: the financial failure of recent toll roads, including the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels, as well as the Clem Jones Tunnel (CLEM7) in Brisbane.

Transport is all about connection and the fact is, for coming generations, mobile phones and tablets are far more important than a car. As the City's Planning Director Graham Jahn said recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, "The car was seen as a vehicle of freedom and now the smartphone is seen as a vehicle of freedom."

At the City we believe that there is a need to radically rethink the planning of our City around people.

It's not about one-dimensional proposals that get people from "A to B", but multifaceted solutions that bring communities together, connect people, create a liveable environment, and boost our prosperity.

OUR OPPORTUNITY

We have an extraordinary opportunity to ease congestion, improve the quality of the air, reduce our greenhouse emissions, beautify our streets and laneways and give Sydney the great connecting spine it needs, all the way from Circular Quay to Central Railway.

Yes, we need to get rid of the buses, and here I'm talking about the CBD- there are 360 an hour clogging George Street.

LIGHT RAIL AND GEORGE STREET

Burying the buses is at least twice as expensive as light rail, it won't actually reduce the numbers coming into the city, and it will require ugly stacks to vent pollution from the tunnel.

Sydney's CBD can't cope with more buses - either in the city centre or on its approaches. Growing demand says we need to move to the next level of mass transit - that is, light rail.

A line from Randwick will removes buses from the east, allow through-routing of buses from east to west, and allows more buses to terminate at the city edges.

And a line to Green Square will provide a viable public transport option for this major urban renewal area that will provide 22,000 jobs and 20,000 new homes for 40,000 residents.

But the first stage of the network has to be the city spine.

The State's own transport master plan also sees the advantages of light rail - a view supported by numerous studies, both those conducted for Council, and others. We broadly support the government's plan which is, in fact, consistent with our own "Connecting our City" transport strategy.

Unlike the proposed underground bus-way, it will bring life and vitality to the city streets, connect our key tourist attractions and link our hotels and businesses to key destinations. We do not want to lose the chance to create a world-class main street, lively with people, shops, cafes and other attractions. With the underground bus tunnel, tourists, shoppers, commuters and visitors will be shunted underground, effectively leaving a deserted centre.

So our immediate focus is to protect George Street, and to protect the millions of dollars invested in businesses that see its possibilities. We must ensure that this great opportunity for clean, efficient and sustainable transport is not lost, and that Sydney gets the great public thoroughfare all great cities deserve.

I have written to the Premier, to express our support for the Government's own master plan and our concerns about the Infrastructure NSW report.

We need your support.

Thank you.