Sustainable transport was the ACT election issue of the day on Tuesday night when the Conservation Council hosted candidates from across the political spectrum to present their policies and answer questions from the public and stakeholders.
Candidates Chris Steel (ACT Labor, Murrumbidgee), Emma Davidson (ACT Greens, Murrumbidgee), Candice Burch (Canberra Liberals, Kurrajong), Robert Knight (Canberra Progressives, Murrumbidgee) faced questions from transport user groups, cycling advocates, the electric vehicle association and walking group, Living Streets Canberra.
The big questions included changing Canberra’s car culture to public transport, options for the next light rail leg and how to remove safety barriers for cycling or walking.
Conservation Council executive director Helen Oakey said transport emissions contributed 60% of Canberra’s greenhouse emissions and asked the candidates to detail their policies to combat this.
“60% of those emissions are primarily from petrol and diesel and that fair and square puts transport in as an environment issue as well,” Ms Oakey said.
“Our transport choices have a significant impact on our environment, the livability of our city, productivity and our health and wellbeing.
“We need to build a strong public transport network and enable active transport as a viable and attractive option for commuters.
“We need to think ahead about reducing traffic congestion and using our land wisely in the face of pressures to expand our urban footprint.”
Reduce transport emissions
ACT Labor spokesperson for transport, Chris Steel, presented a plan to transition to zero emissions through the purchase of 90 new electric buses, the conversion of existing diesel buses to electric, reskilling mechanics to maintain the electric fleet, and infrastructure upgrades at Woden.
“In government, ACT Labor built the first stage of the light rail which has been incredibly successful in a couple of ways,” Mr Steel said.
“It’s meant 20% of trips taken on public transport have zero emissions.
“What it’s also done, is encourage more patronage on public transport – we’ve seen a 30% growth in Gungahlin alone.”
ACT Greens spokesperson Emma Davidson said the Greens were focused on ensuring “no one was left behind” and they would create an accessibility committee to ensure people with disabilities would have a voice in the process of building public transport infrastructure.
“As the average number of trips on public transport is increasing, we need to make sure there are no gaps for people that want to use public transport and can’t get access to it, in a way that works for them,” Ms Davidson said.
“Now is the time to build an integrated public transport for our 21st century.
“We’ve got low interest rates, and people who need jobs, so now is the right time to be making those infrastructure changes.”
Candice Burch said the Canberra Liberals were 100% committed to their zero emission targets and the way to get there was to allow people to make the best choice possible and by encouraging public transport and active travel.
Ms Burch said a major part of the Liberal Party’s emission reduction policy was to introduce transit lanes.
“We want to allow people in cars with three or more people to use the bus lanes in peak times and we think this will go a long way to encouraging people to carpool,” she said.
Canberra Liberals committed to providing separated cycleways connecting all town centres and major employment hubs by 2030, updating the journey planner app to give cyclists on-road/off-road options, and $5 million in infrastructure and facilities like bike and storage lockers and change rooms at transport hubs.
“Two of the most common things we hear from people as to why they don’t choose to cycle to commute is that they don’t feel safe on major roads,” Ms Burch said.
“And from women in particular, we hear it’s the lack of change rooms in particular that just makes cycling much too difficult.”
The Greens cycling platform focused on removing barriers for walking and cycling through community consultation.
“We’ve mapped the gaps in our cycling networks,” Ms Davidson said.
“We’ve identified over 100 potential areas of improvement across the city and over the next four years we’re planning to allocate 20% of the roads and parking upgrade budget to walking and cycling, at a minimum of $20 million a year.”
Canberra Progressives crossbench hopeful, Robert Knight, said he supported Labor’s commitment to electrifying the public transport fleet and the Liberals’ bike pathways policy and said reducing emissions and encouraging cycling came down to rebalancing transport away from private motor vehicle use.
“One of the key things we’d like to see is a more integrated approach to active and public transport,” Mr Knight said.
“So, cycle lanes and cycle facilities that works with our public transport.
“We’d like to see our public transport turned into a network rather the hubs we have at the moment.
“I think we can take some exemplars from around the world and emulate their examples, so we get better coverage and better rapidity.
“Over the course of 40 years, (the Dutch) have transformed their city from car dependent, car clogged messes to friendly cycling cultures and extremely welcoming places to be.
“I think Canberra can do that, so one of the things we’d like to see is a reprioritising of the transport hierarchy and slowing of vehicles through suburban areas.
“We’ve got some of the highest suburban speed limits in the world.”
All candidates committed to Canberra’s existing light rail, but a slight disagreement broke out between Labor and Liberal on the next phase.
Mr Steel said Labor was absolutely committed to bringing light rail south of the lake to Woden to create a “north-south spine” and would get on with the job of building it if re-elected.
“This is a critical project,” Mr Steel said.
“Not only will it provide thousands of jobs, that we really need in the recovery from the pandemic, but it will provide the same benefits it has in the first stage to the southside.
“We’re committed to expanding it beyond, with pre-feasibility studies underway on stages 3 and 4.”
Ms Burch said the Canberra Liberals were also committed to expanding light rail.
“Now that we do have light rail, we do want to see it be successful and expanded into a network,” she said.
“However, we do want to conduct independent analysis to decide what the next best route is going to be to be.
“Anecdotally, a lot of people say to us, what about Belconnen through the city and out to the airport – that seems to make the most sense as the next route.”
Mr Knight said the Canberra Progressives would back light rail but didn’t indicate a preference for the next build.
“Of course, the business case needs to stack up, but rail-based transport is the preferred type of technology we should be using.”
Ms Davidson said the Greens believed light rail needs to come across the lake, have express services, and the light rail stops need more lighting and other safety measures.
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