Thursday, February 10, 2011

Public Planning and Policy Post Petroleum – PIA NO. 6 Finale

This is the final in my series of rough reviews of the special edition of The Australian Planner (Vol 47:4).

To recap, the first few articles (The Shorter PIA – Australian Oil Vulnerability, Shorter PIA NO. 2) summarized the current position of Australian cities and used scenarios to explore the likely impacts of oil depletion. Later articles explored the possible role of cycling (Cycling over the peak - PIA NO.3), the effect of oil depletion and urban development on children, mobility and society (Where do the children play? PIA NO. 4) and the role of planning and governance at all political levels (Transurbanization – PIA NO. 5).

The first paper below picks up the story from an earlier article (Petroleum depletion scenarios for Australian cities)

Planning public transport networks in the post-petroleum era
John Stone and Paul Mees, pages: 263-271

There is no doubt that a compact and connected urban form enhances the potential for oil-free mobility through walking, cycling, and greater public transport use. Therefore, some localised intensification of residential development … and, perhaps more important, concentration of employment and other trip destinations, are necessary objectives for urban planners responding to oil vulnerability.

[But we] argue that it is not necessary to intensify land-use across the whole city before significant improvement in both patronage and economic efficiency of public transport becomes possible.

Alternatives to the car will need to be effective at existing urban residential densities.

Back to the future?
The challenge of peak oil seems daunting, but … [for] the first time since the end of post-War petrol rationing, there is a serious prospect that public transport may become the dominant motorised travel mode in Australian cities. Urban Australia has dealt with constrained oil supplies in the past. Petrol rationing was introduced during the Second World War and remained in force until February 1950.

Table 1. Travel to work in Melbourne, 1951

(Source: ORC,1951, p. 35)

Transport mode Share of workers (%)
Train 26.0
Tram 22.1
Bus 8.8
Total Public Transport 56.9
Bicycle 9.5
Walk (or work from home) 14.1
Total Non-motorised 23.6
Car 16.2
Van/Truck 2.0
Motorcycle 1.3
Total Private Motorised 19.5

Table Reproduced from page 264.

However, the need to conserve fuel and labour saw service levels constrained, leading to overcrowding. While this ensured healthy surpluses for public transport operators, it also created public dissatisfaction. In the minds of many members of the public, trains, trams and buses became synonymous with discomfort and crowding (Davison, 2004, chapts 1-2).

The paper then shows (through a series of figures) how public transport patronage fell sharply over the following decades with the lifting of petrol rationing except in a few cities and for limited periods when pro public transport policies were put in place (SA – Dunstan Govt. and Canberra – Whitlam era).

Australian public transport operators were trapped in a vicious cycle of declining patronage, rising deficits, service cuts and fare rises.

Can public transport cope?
The resurgence in public transport patronage, particularly on rail systems, has led to increasing public complaints about overcrowding and reliability in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

This is interpreted (see e.g. Steele and Gleeson) as a “crisis” requiring urgent (and massive) infrastructure investment.

The current ‘capacity crises’, by international and local historical standards, represent relatively modest change in public transport mode share.

The best-performing European public transport systems carry much higher patronage loads … usually with less extensive infrastructure. For example, Line A of the Paris RER … regularly carries over a million passengers per day over its two-track central section (RATP, 2008, p. 25) - more passengers than the entire Sydney rail network, with its eight tracks entering the CBD.

Since the decline of public transport patronage in Australian cities was rapid, many commentators have taken as an article of faith, the view that urban development in Australian cities is somehow radically different and that population densities are too low to reverse this trend. Stone and Mees point to their own earlier research showing that the relationship between public transport patronage and urban density is non linear, and among Australian and North American cities explains 30% of the variance (see original for graphs). The European experience shows that even “low density” areas can be effectively serviced using public transport – so what is the key?

One approach to diverse travel patterns is to provide separate services for different markets: express buses and trains for peak commuters; regular buses for local trips along busy corridors; car-like ‘dial-a-bus’ for low-demand corridors and times. The problem with this approach is that the more public transport becomes tailor-made, the more it surrenders its environmental and economic advantages. A public transport system offering a direct service between every origin and destination would have low frequencies, low occupancies, high costs and highenergy-use per passenger.

The alternative is networks.

Traditionally, public transport planners have attempted to avoid transfers by designing routes that cater for the most popular travel paths and by creating circuitous bus routes that link many destinations, but the network approach embraces transfers making them the building blocks of a multidestinational system.

[In the US] surveys asking what passengers . . . dislike about transit find that transferring is at or near the top of the list… (Thompson and Matoff, 2003, p. 298)

Four key elements underpin the creation of high
quality, transfer-based networks:

(1) A simple line structure {details edited}

(2) Stable line and operating patterns {details edited}

(3) Convenient transfers {details edited}

(4) Appropriate institutions and fare systems {details edited}

This approach has been recognized for some time and the authors conclude with a quote from COAG 2008.

Simply investing in more capacity is not the only requirement to improve public transport in Australia. Public transport is not administered and managed in Australian cities as well as in many cities overseas . . . now is the time for nationwide reform to improve public transport governance. (IA, 2008, p. 45)

My somewhat cynical take on the public transport privatization of, for example Melbourne, is that it distanced the ‘headache’ of providing this service from the electoral commitments of governments, who could now say (with a tissue of justification) that it was the responsibility of the private operators. As we all know (don’t we?) that private operators always (but always!) provide more efficient services. Now the losses and fines of the current operator are at arms length, the license to operate can be resold when the public gets particularly annoyed, and subsidies can be rebadged as supporting jobs/investment/ etc…


The last paper in this series looks at the current policy perspective of  Federal, State and Local Government levels.

Emerging Australian planning practice and oil vulnerability responses

Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe, pages: 293-301

There appears to be a vertical disconnection between national policy development and that occurring at the local and metropolitan levels. In addition there is a horizontal disconnection/contradiction between oil vulnerability mitigation and other policy areas, such as transport. At present, policy and planning prescriptions are inadequate to meet the challenges of an oil constrained future.

Policy makers and planners face a number of conceptual, empirical and programmatic challenges…

…the challenge of comprehending and conceptualising the problem of petroleum depletion and the vulnerability of economies and societies to the direct adverse effects of higher oil prices and possible shortages and the wider systemic effects of costlier oil.

This task is now much easier as scientific interventions have begun to filter through the scholarly journals and a wary corporate sector appraises the structural factors underpinning the late-2000s oil shocks.

[Secondly, with] the cost of transport fuels already stirring social concern in cities, the necessary task of airing openly and transparently the
potential consequences of higher oil prices seems, for many political representatives, too great an effort.

This effort is confounded by the trajectory of much current policy based on cheap and abundant oil, which is often diametrically divergent with the strategies needed for an expensive and scarce petroleum environment. There are many interests whose fortunes are founded in the petroleum present, not the post-fossil fuel future.

The third major issue impeding the preparation of policies to respond to oil depletion surrounds the identification of depletion impacts and the consequent policy and planning instruments that are needed, or are able, to address this problem.

Federal responses and policy

Australian governments have been slow to respond to the changing global petroleum environment, in part due to the abundance of other energy types, … [but] the past few years have seen the emergence of growing public demand for active government intervention on energy consumption and greenhouse emissions.

…despite the preparation of many reviews and positioning documents, as shown in Table 1 (not shown) … these reports do not represent a strategic response to the risk of declining global oil supplies.

Since the [“Australia’s Future Energy Supply, 2007”]  Senate Inquiry there has been little national government action on petroleum security, beyond the development of new nationa l energy strategies. Some of the analysis undertaken by the national government has been dismissive of petroleum security concerns.

While the government’s energy analysts have been conservative and largely passive in their assessments of declining petroleum security … the Infrastructure Australia agency … has acknowledged:

At best, the world will reach an oil production ‘plateau’ by 2015; at worst, there will be a production peak by 2013, with reserves declining rapidlythereafter … Governments can do more to encourage private sector investment in less carbon intensive energy and transport infrastructure. (Infrastructure Australia, 2008, p. 33)

In summary, the Australian national response to emerging threats to global energy security has been either to ignore or avoid discussion of the problem.

The next section of the paper talks mainly about the experience of Queensland (and Melbourne). The main policy recommendations made at the state level (Queensand) to mitigate oil vulnerability are:

1. Manage risks and reduce impacts

2. Design Development Areas to encourage walking, cycling and public transport (etc…)

3. Ensure transport infrastructure and service investment actively reduces oil dependence.

4. Reduce the length of trips and dependence on oil by localising access.

See the original paper for details.

Local planning
In the absence of national or state metropolitan leadership on oil vulnerability issues, some local governments have begun to take up the task of responding to oil vulnerability problems. This local government response is not widespread…

This limited effort signals that local government is unlikely to be a major site of policy action to respond to the urban impacts of declining global energy security. Most local governments within Australia’s major cities (with the exception of those in SEQ) are too small in their technical capacity and too limited in their policy and spatial scope to effect meaningful resilience beyond the local scale.

The paper concludes that any real or meaningful changes must come from the State and Federal levels and that local govenrment (due to the limitations cited above) may act as advocates for change, but may not have the resources to devote to major changes. BUT …

Federal policy, it appears, is captive to a view that there is either little of concern in global energy markets or that any concerns can be allayed by the bounteous energy resources held by Australia, which would presumably gain in value in a constrained petroleum supply context.

Without federal guidance on what is partly a foreign policy problem, Australian urban managers are left to undertake their own analyses of strategic petroleum challenges, a task that they are typically not trained or experienced in undertaking.

There is a saying that children avoid the mistakes their parents made but make the mistakes their parents avoided… and the same might be true of economic advisors and government policy analysts. Does a generation of advisors trained with a historical (and experiential) perspective post dating the 60’s have the acumen to guide us though  problems that resemble a different historical period?


Finally, my thanks to the authors of the original series in compiling the special edition and my apologies for any (hopefully minor) indiscretions in citing their work. However, seeing as neither the journal nor any of the papers are open access, I hope the slightly more detailed synopsis I have provided here are of some use to those readers seeking a more in depth review than was available in the popular press coverage  of these articles.


Big Gav said...

TreeHugger has a summary of the PIA series and links to all of SP's posts :

Chaucer said...

I am tired of the memes that dominate the media.
Let us try to be creative.
Let us build a railway right around Australia.
Let this railway be 200m guage. Yes, I mean 200m between the rails.
Let the rails be made to carry three tiers of "locomotives", one above the other.
Further, let the rails also be conduits for energy, water and fibre optic communications. Yes, I mean they are not your bog standard steel rail.
Let all Australia's produce be grown between the rails.(OK sceptic, how do You propose to grow wheat without oil?)
Let the entire rail system be powered by energy harvested from the environment.
The bottom "locomotive" is the agricultural one. It is responsible for agriculture on a section of the line.
The second tier is the shuttle to match speeds with the top loco for transfers.
The top loco is on a continuous run. It never stops. It is on legs and I see it 50m in the air running on boggies. (Boggie is a technical term.)
The top Loco is naturally 200 m wide, and as long as we please. Now that is a lot of real estate. It could be a City in it's own right. With no need of transport. It IS the transport.
With no need for fossil fuel.