The future is integrated transport
Modern cities are increasingly connected. Both in the way we live and work, as well as the way data, goods and services travel around our communities.
This transition is driven by the growth of new sectors like health and education. These sectors are amongst some of the most rapidly growing in the Hunter and alongside mining and manufacturing, will provide the foundation of Newcastle’s future economic success.
In manufacturing and extraction dominated economies, like the Newcastle of old, transport needs were simpler. The move to an increasingly service dominated economy brings with it the challenge of increasingly more diverse and distributed employment locations. As a result, the city needs an increasingly complex transport network.
For public transport planners, the move to more distributed jobs can often lead to the incremental addition of more kilometres to existing transport services. The effect of this is longer, more complex and less attractive public transport journeys.
With the result that people switch from public transport to the car. Once people have made the decision to buy a car, a concerted effort needs to be made to entice people back to public transport.
Few would argue that Newcastle’s public transport is meeting this challenge of bringing people back to public transport.
With less than one in every 25 trips to work in the city on public transport, and the reduction in public transport use of 14 per cent over the past five years, there is a vast opportunity to improve service and attract more people back to public transport.
The recent NSW Budget confirmed the commitment from Government to work with a world-class transport operator in order to address network challenges and to promote increased public transport use. The introduction of a single operator across all modes of transport provides the opportunity to increase coordination between modes and to create a network providing a seamless doorto- door journey, tailored to the changing needs of the region.
The Government has promised a significant and important investment in light rail for Newcastle’s city centre. This investment is important for the way people move within and to the city, however it is also an anchor for new investment.
Australia’s newest light rail project, G:link on the Gold Coast, is an illustration of the potential positive uplift that can be delivered by light rail. Within the first year of operations, more than $6 billion in new investment had been committed in a single suburb on the line, Broadbeach. Some experts have suggested G:link has added $50,000-$80,000 to the value of neighbouring properties. However the experience on the Gold Coast is not unique.
From Norway to Nottingham, the introduction of light rail has been a catalyst for urban renewal. Is it a European phenomenon, not relevant for cities in Australia? Dallas, Phoenix and Portland are becoming model transit cities in the car-loving US, while at our own front door, Gold Coast, Canberra and Sydney have embraced light rail as part of the future of these cities.
Light rail will only be one part of the solution. The overall transformation will be in making public transport a more attractive option across all modes, including buses and ferries, in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie by meeting customer expectations. The introduction of the light rail on the Gold Coast has resulted in a 25% increase in public transport usage not just on the light rail system but across the bus network.
The key to light rail’s success is in the visibility of the infrastructure, it’s remaking of the streetscape and in its convenience. Where coupled with strong supporting modes, like bus, sensible access and parking for cars, as well a focus on the customer service, public transport becomes an attractive choice for communities.
While the future for Newcastle is still emerging, it is clear that a well-trodden path of renewal is available to the city as a blueprint for success. The hard work has been done in cities like Portland, Bordeaux and Manchester, the challenge for Newcastle is how to learn from the experience of these cities and make them relevant for us.