Future cities and regions, population and public transport

Publication Date
08 October 2018

Good morning. Thank you for your kind introduction and thank you to the Bus Industry Confederation and the Bus and Coach Association of New Zealand for the opportunity to speak at this year's Conference.

It's nice to be here in Cairns representing Infrastructure Australia.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Infrastructure Australia, we are the nation's independent infrastructure advisor.

We were formed in 2008 to provide independent advice to all levels of government.

We do that through the Australian Infrastructure Audit and the Australian Infrastructure Plan, and our Reform Series.

We also prioritise Australia's infrastructure investment needs.

It is our job to champion the ‘big picture’ view of Australia's infrastructure reform and investment needs—something which is becoming increasingly important as we plan for a bigger Australia.

In the coming 30 years, Australia's population is expected to increase by around 12 million people.

That means, by 2046, Australia will be home to 35 million people.

This is the equivalent of adding a new city, roughly the size of Canberra, or about three cities the size of Cairns, to the nation each year for the next 30 years.

This growth is a good thing.

It provides Australia with an opportunity to:

  • boost our productivity,
  • strengthen our labour force and the domestic market for business and
  • enhance the diversity of our communities.

But to maximise the opportunities afforded by population growth, we need to ensure our cities remain great places to live and work. 

With this in mind, my remarks this morning will focus on the implications of Australia's growth for land use, infrastructure and transport.

I will discuss opportunities for the bus sector as highlighted in the 2018 Infrastructure Priority List and I will provide a glimpse of our upcoming Reform Series publication, which investigates public transport in outer urban areas.

Australia's growing cities

Australia's future population growth will be most concentrated in our cities.

75% of the growth is expected to occur in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

Growth on this scale will transform these cities. The potential benefits are immense.

As our population grows, Australia is becoming increasingly urbanised and so is our economy.

In 2016–17, our four largest cities generated over 60% of Australia's Gross Domestic Product.

Australia's long-term prosperity is increasingly linked to the performance of our major cities.

Attracting and retaining businesses and skilled workers will be key.

To do that, our cities must operate efficiently and remain “liveable” as they grow.

In other words, we need well-planned cities.

We need the location of jobs, homes and infrastructure networks to be coordinated to maximise accessibility and liveability.

And increasing the capacity of our public transport networks will be crucial.

That includes building new infrastructure as well as prioritising projects which make better use of the infrastructure we already have.

Understanding our growth challenges

Earlier this year Infrastructure Australia published Future Cities.

Future Cities provides a useful starting point for understanding the challenges our cities are likely to face

It emphasises the need for investment in public transport if we are to maintain our great cities and the quality of life we enjoy.

Future Cities considered three 30-year growth scenarios for two sample cities—low, medium, and high-density versions of the future.

In each version of the future, we looked at the performance of the transport network, access to jobs, emissions from cars, and access to schools, hospitals and green spaces.

Our research shows Australians face a complex set of choices regarding what change will look like.

  • Should our cities grow out or up?
  • How do we align the location of jobs with the needs of our changing economy?
  • How do our infrastructure networks need to change to accommodate more demand?
  • How can we ensure the world-class liveability of our cities is maintained and enhanced?

These are difficult decisions, with each requiring trade-offs and compromise.

But inaction is not an option, nor is business as usual.

If we fail to effectively anticipate and respond to growth the likely results will be:

  • declining economic productivity
  • increasing environmental pressures
  • and a marked reduction in quality of life.

Growth is not the only challenge faced by Australia's cities.

Fundamental shifts will have a significant impact on the structure and operation of our cities and on the infrastructure required to support them.

In our Future Cities report we considered six major influences:

The first is our ageing population.

Over the next 40 years the proportion of the Australian population aged 65 and over will increase significantly, while the proportion of working-age people will decrease.

This means Australia's governments will face increasing fiscal gaps, which will impact on the funding available for infrastructure.

The second was the rapid transformation of technology.

Technology is disrupting how goods and services are provided, regulated, consumed and paid for.

The third is an increasing urban freight task.

According to the 2015 Australian Infrastructure Audit, Australia's containerised freight task is projected to increase by 165% by 2031 with cities being a primary location for this growth.

This will have implications for our urban freight networks, in particular first and last mile transport and handling.

The fourth is the impact of climate change.

The changing global climate is driving shifts in short-term weather patterns, including increased extreme weather events, and long term climate trends.

At the same time, our cities are a key source of emissions, and are located in areas which are at risk from climate impacts.

The fifth is the shifting structure of national and global economies.

The focus of the economy is shifting towards service and knowledge-intensive activities.

Cities are the ideal location for these agglomerating economies, enabling collaboration and easy access to skilled labour.

And lastly, changes to the nature and location of work.

Innovation in communications, robotic technology and artificial intelligence, are enabling changes to the way we work.

These shifts are important—and they are being considered in a range of forums.

Our Future Cities report focussed on understanding the impacts of population growth on our infrastructure networks.

Investing in public transport

A key finding from our modelling was that under all three scenarios, congestion will increase significantly.

In fact, our research found that our cities are at risk of becoming congestion capitals if we let development grow unchecked on the urban fringes.

This would be costly for Australia.

Congestion reduces access to jobs and skilled labour

it has a significant impact on the national economy—potentially costing Australia as much as $53 billion by 2031 if we don't take action.

It also reduces access to education, health and social services

not to mention green and public spaces which play an increasingly important role in the liveability of our cities.

Under all growth scenarios, our research found the use and performance of public transport must improve to cater for growth.

In Melbourne, for example, we found that an additional 2.8 million people would call the city home over next 30 years.

This means about 6.3 million more daily trips on Melbourne's roads and 2 million more trips on the city's public transport network each day. 

To put that into perspective, Melbourne's public transport networks currently carry about 1.4 million trips

Role for the bus sector

It's clear that our growing cities need high quality public transport.

That's why one of Future Cities recommendations is that Australia's governments focus on increasing the reach, capacity and sustainability of our public transport networks.

The paper also recommends that land-use planning and public transport investment are supported by technology and network optimisation to make the most of the assets we already have.

We see technology playing an increasingly important role in our public transport networks.

Buses have a particularly important role to play in integrated transport networks, given their flexibility and adaptability to changing travel needs.

With the unique ability to service both low and high density areas, and cover both the main journey and feeder trips, buses form a critical part of our transport networks.

The key challenge for planners is to pinpoint exactly where we need to increase the capacity of bus routes and deliver more efficient journeys where they are needed most. 

On this point, our Future Cities report urges Australia's governments to improve the flexibility, transparency and sophistication of strategic plans.

In particular, we would like to see Australia's governments use more flexible planning tools, such as scenario planning, to account for uncertainty, and rigorously test options against different long-term outcomes.

Increasing the transparency of the assumptions, data and models which inform long-term planning is important for improved decision making and delivering better planning outcomes.

While scenario planning may seem rudimentary, the future is becoming less and less certain as I have already mentioned.

As we look to improve long-term planning, we must also look at improving project selection practices, which brings me to the Infrastructure Priority List.

Selecting the right projects  

Maintained by Infrastructure Australia, the Infrastructure Priority List is an independent list of nationally-significant investments which address our infrastructure gaps.

We have a rigorous assessment process for adding projects to the Priority List.

This involves assessing the costs and benefits of problems, opportunities and solutions.

We consider the strategic fit, economic impact and deliverability of projects.

This approach enables us to provide a high quality selection of nationally significant infrastructure solutions which all levels of government can choose from.

At its heart, the Infrastructure Priority List directs funding towards the most nationally significant projects.

It is critical we select the projects that can make the most positive contribution—for lowest cost.

The Priority List includes both Projects and Initiatives.

Initiatives are nationally-significant problems, which require further development to identify the best course of action.  

Projects, on the other hand, are advanced proposals which have a fully developed business case which has been positively assessed by the independent Infrastructure Australia board.

The 2018 List identified a $55 billion infrastructure pipeline including 12 projects, which have been assessed and recommended for delivery.

Public transport is a significant theme of the 2018 List, reflecting the demands of a growing population.

In particular, the list highlights the need for projects which build capacity on key public transport corridors.

2018 Infrastructure Priority List

We were pleased to receive many high quality submissions for the Infrastructure Priority List, including a large number of public transport submissions.

One of those is the Brisbane Metro project, which was included on the List this year.

Brisbane Metro is transformative project which will have significant benefits and support the fast-growing area of South East Queensland.

By removing a series of bottlenecks and extending the fully separated busway, this project will provide fast and frequent public transport services in inner Brisbane.

It will deliver travel time savings for passengers and encourage more people to use public transport.

This project is also a good example of targeted investments aimed at getting more from the infrastructure we already have and collaboration, with the Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council working together to deliver the best outcomes for the community.

The List also includes a number of bus priority Initiatives, such as building public transport capacity in Sydney along the Parramatta Road and Victoria Road Corridors.

There are also Initiatives and Projects focussed on enhancing rail networks in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, where buses will key in providing a truly integrated network.

In fact, buses will continue to play a key role in all our cities and we encourage you to continue making submissions for the list.

Outer urban public transport

Moving on to our Reform Series, I'd like to talk a little about our latest research paper, which is due for release later this month and considers the role of buses in outer urban areas.

As we plan for population growth, there is a real need to focus investment on improving public transport connections in outer urban areas.  

Australia's cities have experienced a degree of urban consolidation in recent years but outer urban areas are still growing strongly.

Unfortunately, growing communities on the outskirts of our major cities are being left behind by a lack of access to public transport.

Close to half the population of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide live in the outer urban areas of those cities.

A substantial number of people living in these areas don't have good public transport within a 15 minute walk of their home.

In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, more than a million people fall into this category while half a million people in Perth and 200,000 people in Adelaide also have poor access to public transport and this might worsen as our population grows.

On average, people living in outer urban areas spend more on transport than inner city residents  as they are spending more on operating private vehicles because of a lack of access to public transport.

Without access to reasonable public transport services, people living or working in our outer suburbs are more reliant on their cars meaning they shoulder the additional burden of higher operating costs, leaving less money for other household expenses.

Historically, it has been very costly to deliver public transport in lower density, outer suburban areas where houses and employment centres are typically spread quite far apart, and people prefer to drive rather than take the train or bus.

Australia's governments should be commended for ramping up investment in public transport in recent years however as close to half the population of our five largest cities now live in the outer suburbs it is vital that we focus on provide good access to public transport in those areas.

We believe that new technology and greater availability of data could create opportunities to improve customer service in outer urban areas.

Our report makes a case for governments to trial new models like on-demand buses in these areas.

These trials will give us a better evidence base and enable us to see where they work well, and importantly where they don't.

These models may enable us to fill-in the gaps ad provide easier access to regular bus services.

We would also like governments to focus on making transfers between public transport services simple and seamless.

This includes investing in well-designed interchanges and making sure that integrated ticketing systems enable people to transfer between modes and services easily.

We look forward to sharing this paper with you in coming weeks.

All of the research and the publications I've discussed today are available on our website.

And you can also follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

Thank you.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your conference.