The challenges of changing habits

By David Bissell

An infrastructure crisis is affecting Australia’s largest capital cities.

The sobering everyday reality of bumper-to-bumper jams has taken the shine off cities like Sydney that are creaking under the strain of inadequate transport infrastructures that cannot cope with the volume of people moving today.

Congestion costs the Australian economy at least $16 billion a year.

But there is a more insidious side to this commuting misery too, as I have learned from a project that I have been leading in Sydney.

The impact of stressful commutes is not limited to the irritation of the journey itself. It has all manner of impacts on the people and families involved, colouring work and home life in ways not adequately appreciated previously.

Exhaustion at home, fatigue at work and feelings of alienation from children and partners are just some of the experiences that are pushing people to tipping points where changing journeys, changing jobs or even changing cities are the only ways out.

Investing in public transport is one of the most effective ways of saving our cities from the economic, social and environmental scourge of congestion.

Building more roads simply creates more traffic, and so congestion returns. Cities around the world are crying out for investment in public transport.

So why, as we approach the ACT election, has public transport investment in Canberra become so polarised?

How has Capital Metro, the light rail infrastructure initially to be built from Canberra City to Gungahlin, become such a political hot potato, igniting infrastructural ‘orientations’ in a way never before seen in Canberra?

Those who are not in favour of Capital Metro claim Canberra is different. They argue a tram is not suited to our low-density, polycentric city that could be much better served by an enhanced bus network.

I believe that Canberra is different but not for these reasons.

Canberra is different because we don’t perceive that we have an infrastructure crisis.