There are issues on which you may wish to influence others and they may wish to influence you. There is out-of-date and mistaken conventional wisdom of which you may need to be aware.
There is general acceptance amongst politians, businessmen, and technical experts that the Australian population will double from 24 m to 48m in the next 4-5 decades. This is a good thing, properly managed. What is not a good thing being the ready assumption that the populations of three already large cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, will double. This assumption is supported by another, namely that untried new smart city technologies will protect these cities’ world leading liveability and prosperity. This is doubtful. Smart city technologies are mainly for overseas cities of already 8m or more with no alternative in an endeavour to recover some of their lost liveability.
Australia does not need to lose its precious liveability by major cities growing to 8m. It can retain the advantage of house space, the ultimate luxury. It can distribute population increase to new cities of 1m around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, all connected to CBDs rapidly in less than an hour by HSR.
The serious freight distortion on the east coast that reduces competition and creates isolation of the major cities by high road freight costs can be disrupted by Fast Freight Rail (FFR). It would halve the cost and delivery time between the cities. FFR would reduce the cost of living; increase competition; lift innovation; improve productivity; and increase Australian international competitiveness enormously. The freight distortion will get worse, if the cities double in size without FFR.
Budget repair is slow, uncertain and vulnerable to external shocks. Resistance to parring back high welfare costs when economic growth is so low has led to increased taxes. Greater growth can be achieved by investing in large private infrastructure projects like HSR/FFR, which do not have significant negative impact on the budget deficit and government debt. Then the budget can be repaired with growing tax revenue from company tax and people receiving higher wages, salaries and dividends.
Lower average growth and prosperity should not be accepted as the new normal. It can be overcome, just as world leading liveability can be retained. Loss of liveability should not be accepted either.
Evidence of present 8m cities
London has a population of 8m. New York is somewhat larger. London is ranked 53 in the world for liveability and New York 56. London has a better public transport system than is likely in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane when their populations double. London has a vibrant centre like the Australian cities. Its suburbs, however, are crammed into a smaller area than Melbourne and Sydney with 4m. Its houses on average are less than half the size of Australian average houses. It lacks the luxury of space of Australian houses and cities. It would be interesting to compare public health of 8m people in London to that of 4m in cities here. It may not be as good.
On the evidence of London, Australian cities would be better off with more people living in the regions.
Smart city technology
The CBA, Telstra, Miki and NBN are instructive examples. The CBA intelligent deposit taking technology was seriously flawed and neither the government nor the bank acted on it for 4 years. Telstra has major challenges in connecting its many heritage systems with new ones without loss of service and customers. The Victorian Miki travel card could probably have been bought off the shelf for $100m, but it cost $1.5b to reinvent the wheel. The NBN is costing more and delivering less than originally planned.
A very senior UK Treasury official when asked whether the billions spent on new computers would replace public servants replied that, no, they were so poorly trained in use of computers that they had to be retained to maintain government services.
Smart city technology may be disappointing, and may not be sufficiently reliable to certainly compensate for loss of spatial liveability of existing Australian cities growing to 8m people.
London and New York are ranked as number one cities in the world for innovation, depending on the observer. America has many cities much smaller than Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that are big contributors to innovation, possibly in aggregate as much as New York. They are connected by airlines. London institutions are connected to Oxford and Cambridge in 1-2 hours by public transport.
It is envisaged that each new regional city of 1m on the HSR line would have a CSIRO centre and other R&D institutions focused on its own innovation speciality and connected rapidly to each other and to city CBDs and innovation centres. They would aim to be world class and accepted as associates of overseas centres in networks of world best practice. Each new city would have a full university.
It Is widely assumed that low cost, driverless, electric, 4 seater vehicles will solve the public transport issues of Australian cities of 8m. This is doubtful. There are legal, insurance, technical and regulatory issues to be resolved first.
There are behaviour issues too. At present, privately owned cars are in effect extensions of the owners’ home and personality. Possession means personal care. Small, private, anonymous, driverless, public vehicles will not receive the same careful treatment. The idle vehicles must be mobile and located close to passenger pick-up to minimise waiting. They will keep moving slowly to conserve battery charge in and out of cities on all freeways and up and down all highways, 24/7. Company owners will demand new freeways to circle around CBDs and around the middle and outer city suburbs centred on the CBDs.
Vehicles will be out of service for 1 hour per week for cleaning. A million vehicles would mean 15,547 would be scheduled for cleaning every hour, 24/7. Given 20 minutes in, 20 minutes out and 20 minutes cleaning, a facility to park and process 5,000 units would be needed. This is a large requirement, though none would otherwise ever be garaged, or parked, except perhaps in suburban streets near freeways.
When vehicles are rejected and a clean replacement ordered by annoyed passengers because they arrived with vomit, mess, needles, graffiti or damage, another facility is needed to immediately and thoroughly clean these vehicles. Perhaps up to 1% may be affected for up to an hour. It would need a facility to park and process a peak of 10,000 vehicles a day, 24/7. Passengers would be the inspectors.
The vehicles are constantly moving. They are “parked” waiting to be called on freeways and highways at slow speed causing great congestion. Most cars today are parked/garaged 90% of the time. There is still major congestion. Maybe 2 to 3 million vehicles at an average occupancy of up to 2, not 4, would be needed for 8m people resulting in worse congestion, connectivity and liveability than now. Road use tax on high road use to replace petrol tax to pay for roads and freeways may make vehicles higher cost.
Authorities plan to densify suburbs and shrink dwelling size in cities for an extra 3-4m or more people. Four dwellings in two stories are planned for most ¼ acre blocks in leafy suburbs. Minimum back yard size is regulated for family activities, though not private from the overlooking second story dwellings.
London has a vibrant centre, but vast areas of boring, repetitious, small, two-story, semi-detached dwellings on tiny blocks in squashed suburbs, seldom noticed by foreign visitors. The many ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ are not the answer. High density means low liveability, like London.
New regional cities
There would be at least 6 new cities of 1m, one on each side of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane on the HSR line. Settlers would be attracted to the new cities because the same CBD jobs would be available to them if they choose to live on major city fringes or in new regional cities; the cost of housing would be less in new regional cities on the HSR route than in city and fringes; new city houses would be bigger than densified dwellings in the cities; the commute to CBDs would be in less time from new cities by HSR
than from fringes; commuting costs by HSR from new cities to the CBD would be less than from fringes; new, smart, sustainable cities on HSR would be a magnet for settlers; and the new cities would become self-sustaining providers of jobs as they grow more rapidly on the HSR than the total population grows to the present size of Adelaide. They would have vibrant centres. New schools would be built with large playgrounds and sports fields for good student health, rather than high-rise schools with little space in major cities of 8m. Good teachers would be attracted to the new cities and new schools.
Settlers would flee densification, poorly serviced fringes and low liveability.
The private HSR/FFR consortium would build 400,000 dwellings above railways in trenches in inner suburbs of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Residents would have easy access to jobs by public transport. New regional cities would house much of the population growth. The aim would be to settle 10m of the 24m population increase in low cost regional housing instead of in 8m high cost cities. This would end the lack of affordable housing that is troubling Australia at present.
Electric HSR/FFR would be competitive and gain a large share of the market from interstate semi-trailers, cars and east coast flights, thereby saving co₂ production. HSR/FFR is more energy efficient than cars, trucks and planes. It would contribute significantly to Paris targets, as much of Australia’s greenhouse gas production comes from cars, trucks and planes. It would be a green project.
Government policy is airline-centric. Badgerys Creek Airport is being built in marginal seats and HSR/FFR is deferred indefinitely. Consequently, the major east coast cities are guaranteed to double to 8m and lose liveability. There could be a compromise: airlines could become members of the private consortium to build HSR/FFR, like the original private VFT Project. They would contribute passenger management knowledge. Similarly, Sydney Airport Corporation could be a member and contribute rail terminus and station design. They would profit from their loss, as canal owners did when investing in the first UK railways. Australian liveability would be secured by HSR/FFR.
The key underlying assumption is that the projected population will rise from 24m to 48m in coming decades. The associated assumption is that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will double in population and that 8m is acceptable. It is assumed that serious densification will not destroy liveability. London’s 8m is good evidence that it will. Plans assume in effect that population increase will stop dead in 2051.
It is assumed that innovation will be unimpeded by congestion and poor transport connectivity in the enlarged cities. It is assumed that smart digital technology will protect liveability in cities growing to 8m. It is assumed that digital liveability will substitute for spatial liveability. The luxury and value of Australian spacious houses is discounted. It is assumed that interstate travel is the priority for HSR. The real priority is regional development to take population pressure off cities’ loss of liveability.
HSR is assumed to be a white elephant. It is not. It would be self-funding within its construction period of 10 years. It would be highly profitable. It is assumed that HSR is marginal, likely to fail and be subject to government rescue. In fact, HSR/FFR is a most robust business concept and has minimal risk of failure. It is assumed it would have little or no beneficial impact on growth and budget repair, so it can be ignored.
The Federal Government should initiate the HSR/FFR Project immediately to show the people inspirational leadership on an iconic project and begin its implementation well before the next election.
For previous “Critical Influences” and “Further Critical Influences” please visit www.veryfasttrain.com.au