Lack of Planning in Sydney Transport

Recently our editor was invited to present a speech to the Sydney Branch of the Lions Club on a topical issue as part of the annual Lions Club International “Youth of the Year competition. The speech presented was titled “Lack of Planning in Sydney Transport” It won first place in its division, being the best presented on the night.

Here at Transport NSW Blog we believe that Transport is one of the most topical issues that can be discussed within our communities as it affects almost everyone. Everyone needs to be able to get from point A to point B, between their homes and their jobs or other important parts of their community.  The speech takes a look at the issues that Sydney faces from a transport planning perspective and talks about the lack of long term planning that is entrenched within our transport bureaucracy and the ways that this issue affects our community. It also makes a case for why we need to develop a long term bi-partisan transport masterplan for Sydney and New South Wales.

Please see below for a transcript of the speech.

Think back to the last time you wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t on a rail line. Was it stressful, battling traffic through crowded streets, with seemingly endless sets of traffic lights, along roads that seem to go in no sensible direction?

Is this an everyday issue for you, like it is for a majority of people in Sydney? For most people there is no choice but to use their own private transport to get to where they need to be each day.

But why is this? Tonight I’m going to discuss with you the reason behind this problem.

We have seen an ongoing lack of forward planning and investment in critical transport infrastructure, such as heavy rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit networks. The failure to implement an integrated transport plan and public transport network has become one of the great social emergencies in Sydney.

This failure not only costs Sydney tens of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, but imposes unneeded stress on millions of people daily, and takes away hours of quality time that they could be spending with their families, or giving back to the community.

Widely considered to be one of the 10 most influential cities in the world, Sydney is a world city. We need to be world leaders in all aspects of economy, society and the environment in order to remain there in the future. Despite this we do not have a public transport system to match that standing. Whilst we are in the top 10 overall, our ranking is pulled down by our low thirties placing in transport accessibility.

Think of the cities that top the transport list; Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. What do you think of when you think of their transport network? The Paris Metro, The London Tube, the New York Metro, the Shinkansen in Tokyo. They are certainly better than CityRail.

The question for Sydney is why this has occurred?

In my view the answer is simple. A lack of an overarching transport strategy stretching back for multiple decades.

But why don’t we have a strategy?

‘Short-termism’- we live in a city plagued with short-termism.Governments from across the political spectrum have for too long been more focused on projects that can be completed in a single term of government, instead of planning for much needed public transport infrastructure projects that might come to fruition long after their days in the Macquarie Street have gone.

If you’ve ever wandered the streets of the CBD or the Rocks you can see that even back in First Fleet days there was no plan for transport infrastructure.

Sydney has not had an effective transport masterplan since the days of the visionary Chief Engineer, Bradfield in the 1920s.He was the man behind the City Circle railway line, Electric trains and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.The shortsightedness of planning for critical transport infrastructure in Sydney can be demonstrated with a view pertinent examples:

Firstly, the removal of Sydney tramways in the 1950s.
The government of the day removed an extensive, high-capacity, effective public transport network and replaced it with noisy, dirty and inefficient buses that we still suffer with today.

Then we have the large-scale housing development in Western Sydney form the 1970s onwards, with no consideration as to the transport needs of its new residents, or how to connect these new communities to jobs and other essential services.

Further, we have seen a fixation on motorway construction over public transport projects to all parts of Sydney.This is only served to cause greater problems such as Increased congestion and environmental pollution.
The evidence from the United States and Europe shows that public transport is the only solution to the types of problems that Sydney currently faces and will continue to increasingly face in the future.

Further, this evidence shows that by continuing to do things the way Sydney has been doing it in the past, with mass road building projects and urban sprawl unconnected to Public transport infrastructure, we only make the problem worse. An example of this is Los Angeles, where urban sprawl fuelled by the interstate highway program and a lack of public transport has choked the city.

There are great economic, social and environmental benefits that can be achieved by investment in public transport infrastructure.These cannot be achieved by staying the course. We can claim back billions a year in lost productivity, create more connected communities and enjoy a cleaner environment.
To some degree the problem has been recognised and tentative steps have been taken to develop comprehensive transport planning and implement vital public transport infrastructure.

Examples of this can be seen in the:

– South-West Rail Link
Where a rail line was built to the South West growth area before homes were built

– Airport line
Where suburban stations between the CBD and the Airport were added before a gentrification program which made that area one of the densest in the world.

– Future Transport 2056
Which attempts to outline clear transport priorities for the next four decades, but really doesn’t go far enough, with only 25 rail projects considered alongside over 200 new road upgrades Additionally, the plan does not enjoy bi-partisan support, which is essential for its success.
Unless we make a break from past ways doing things Sydney in relation to how we plan for our future transport needs we are destined to repeat mistakes of the past. By repeating these mistakes we will create a city that is environmentally damaging, does not serve the needs of our economy, and leads to further disconnect in our community. We need a long term bi-partisan transport plan for the future, or we plan to fail.

Conor Magee, Editor of Transport NSW Blog, wrote this speech and presented it to the Lions Youth of the Year Sydney Club level competition. He placed first in the public speaking section of the competition. 

We would like to thank the Lions Club and the judging panel for the opportunity to present to them.

2 Replies to “Lack of Planning in Sydney Transport”

  1. Actually what you need is the Western Australian Planning Commission, ie a standing bureaucracy, somewhat like what Infrastructure Australia is supposed to be but is not, who can’t be nobbled by political micromanagement but can only produce plans that are accepted or rejected by Cabinet.

    And you need the authors of these plans to say “Here is what we propose for 5-10 years from now…ie 5 years if the economy and population are going well, 10 years if not.” But parties should not be able to completely reject a planning commission recommendation without having taken that to an election.

    You wouldn’t have had the Carr/Iemma/Rees/KKK commotion if some sort of model like that existed.


    1. You have hit the money with this one! Carr/Iemma/Rees/KKK commotion was an absolute disaster for transport in this state. I 100% agree that a WA style planning commission would have helped steer the ship in the right direction. Despite the current government being more visionary, the need for a bi-partisan commission has become even more apparent, with politically motivate cancellations of much needed projects now becoming common place.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: