The Big Decision - The Future of CBD Transport

(12pm, Monday 29 October 2012, Sydney Town Hall Reception Room)

Hello, everyone, welcome to our Transport Roundtable. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our city.

Thank you for making the time to come to this roundtable. Many of you have participated in our previous forums to help build understanding and consensus for the work needed to create a world-class transport system for our city.

Business as usual is not an option.

Sydney's rail system is reaching capacity and trains are slower now than they were a decade ago. More and more buses have been added, but travel times are increasing with growing congestion.

Pedestrians are crowded onto narrow footpaths, particularly along George Street, and our growing bike network still needs State Government endorsement to complete critical connecting links.

Building more roads to channel more vehicles onto narrow city streets is not a solution. Investing first in public transport will deliver more and better travel options that will ease traffic congestion for those who have no choice but to drive.

Across the globe, Cities are responding to the challenge of growing congestion, damaging pollution and constrained economies by encouraging the shift to public transport, walking and cycling.

At the City, we believe there is wide-ranging consensus about what is needed to support a strong and growing economy, and transform our city into an attractive place.

It is vital that we communicate to the State Government the shared vision that has evolved over the future of George Street and that we work together on ways to make it a reality.

Many of you have shown your commitment to that vision by opening flagship stores and bringing the glamour and style back to what could and should be a world-class "destination" street.

We've got a fine new hotel and Top Shop in the old Gowings building; there's Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Paspaley, Myer and others.

The driving force behind this reinvention that is already taking place is that George Street is the main street of Sydney. It's important that shoppers, workers, tourists and visitors can move quickly, quietly and easily along more than 2km of George Street.

The key to making that happen is light rail, with a more efficient bus network and effective interchanges.

Removing the 360 buses is critical. But putting them underground — as the competing Infrastructure NSW plan proposes —only introduces new problems.

Burying the buses, with only two stops at Wynyard and Town Hall will not to support the businesses along George Street, or help people move up and down the street to shop at lunch-time or get off at one of the stops and pick up something to eat on the way to the office.

It is also at least twice as expensive as light rail, and does not eliminate a single bus coming into the city.

An underground bus way will not connect our key tourist attractions. Nor will it link our hotels and businesses to key destinations.

Light rail from Randwick through to Circular Quay is the first stage of what could become a great network. It removes buses from the east, allows through-routing of buses from east to west, and allows more buses to terminate at the city's edges.

We want to transform George Street and transform how we connect the city to the transport network.

We cannot cope with more buses and demand is great enough to move to the next level of transit from high bus volumes - that is, light rail.

The first stage has to be a city spine, with interchanges at Central, Park Street and the north-east and north-west corners.

We support that vision with a $180 million commitment that will allow us to not only transform George Street but also the connecting laneways and thoroughfares that will bring people to and from the light rail. With proper design that encourages movement, keeps people safe and rewards them with an interesting environment, light rail allows us to recreate the city centre.

At a time when retail is facing challenges, it makes sense to capture people while they are here, in the city. We have 600,000 people here each day already, but we need to entice them to walk around, and to slow the dash from train to office and office to train.

With laneways, wayfinding, public art, great lighting, we can pull people through and across the city to maximise the benefits of light rail.

It's not just about a transport solution, but about transforming our city heart as the prime driver of the Australian economy — a preferred destination to work, shop, study, holiday and party!

The City of Sydney broadly supports the State Government's transport master plan, now out for public comment. It, too, sees the advantages of light rail - a view supported by numerous studies, conducted for Council and others.

The master plan gives a whole-of-city response to urban growth and congestion issues over the next 20-30 years. It provides an integrated transport, land use and economic response and is broadly consistent with Council's Connecting our City transport strategy.

Like our strategy, it proposes light rail and pedestrianisation of parts of George Street.

We also support the proposed second harbour rail crossing and we are concerned by recommendations in the Infrastructure NSW report that this be deferred.

That would permanently constrain the capacity of our heavy rail network, thereby constraining the potential of central Sydney and the metropolitan area.

Study after study has shown that the second rail crossing is essential and the City has for a long time worked with the Government to ensure identified underground rail corridors are protected. Without the second harbour crossing, the heavy rail networks may not accommodate even modest growth in jobs over the next decade.

And no matter whether plans to spread jobs to other centres occurs, with 100,000 new residents coming to the city over the next 20 years, the demand for jobs in the city will increase, and the desire by those people to have their business in the city will continue.

Green Square is of particular concern, given that 48,000 new residents will be reliant on the Airport and East Hills line without new public transport. Planned capacity increases by 2016 will be rapidly consumed by growth on the corridor and the option of more bus services is severely compromised by congestion.

Immediate protection of the mass transit corridor and expansion of light rail to Green Square is essential.

Without action, Green Square will create a serious economic constraint through congestion on the Botany Road national freight corridor and the City/Airport route.

Our immediate focus, however, must be to progress the George Street vision, to ensure that the investments that many of you have there are not degraded, that the chance for clean, efficient and sustainable transport is not lost, and that Sydney finally gets the great public thoroughfare all great cities deserve.

The State Government needs to be bold and commit as a priority to the CBD light rail spine along George Street.

At our most recent meeting, Council reaffirmed our support for light rail on George Street to protect businesses and to deliver the transformation critical to maintaining Sydney's international competitiveness as a global city.

I hope we can all speak with one voice on this vitally important issue.