It takes over two hours and 178kms to travel by car from Two Rocks in the northern suburbs to Herron in the south. Crossing the other way, it can take up to one hour to travel from the coast to Mundaring. Despite its relatively small population, Perth has one of the longest urban sprawls in the world and it continues to grow.
These can often be the distances people need to travel for daily activities, such as going to work, accessing health and other services, visiting entertainment and retail centres, and connecting with family. The vast size of the Perth Metropolitan area means people have been forced to spend a large amount of time travelling and bearing the associated costs. It also means the city gets even hotter as more trees are cleared to make way for more roads, and Western Australians are forced to continue travelling great distances by car or brave unsafe and poorly connected cycle routes to get where they need to go.
As all Western Australians know, Perth is a motor vehicle city – and our car reliance over these distances poses a challenge when it comes to carbon emissions, air pollution and urban design. Some of these challenges can be addressed through public transport planning and development alongside private transport electrification – and in doing so, could also help us reach net zero in the transport sector.
Clean State has been bringing together experts, industry, government, and community representatives to understand how we can design our towns, cities, and suburbs to be better for the planet and more liveable in the face of climate change. We have investigated community power, future homes, and most recently transport – which included participants from the WA Council of Social Services (WACOSS), the City of Subiaco, WestCycle, Curtin University and the UWA School of Engineering.
In this blog we provide some ideas for making transport greener and more accessible.
These are the challenges and opportunities we found in our Roundtable
Prioritising public and active transport in a car-centric city
With over 2.3 million cars in WA, it’s obvious that the transition to EVs is needed quickly – but this should not be the sole focus of policy. Incentivising other low-carbon modes of transport such as buses, trains, light rail, safe cycling and walking could achieve a range of positive benefits for the population and the planet. Yet, making buses electric for example – which would reduce pollution and create jobs – is still many years away from implementation. Meanwhile there are plenty of barriers to cycling, walking and a major mindset shift needed to persuade the public that more main roads is not the way forward.
Matching EV requirements with the grid
After priorities like better public and more convenient active transport, EVs are a good alternative to petrol vehicles. But here, too, policy needs to catch up with demand – or we will experience the same challenges that saw the SWIS grid overloaded by an influx of rooftop solar energy. If electric vehicles are charged from the fossil fuel grid, there may be a reduction in emissions from burning petrol but no reduction in emissions from the energy source itself. But if a car is charged from solar panels or a 100% renewable energy grid, the emissions reductions would be significantly greater. We need renewable energy charging points at home, at work and in commercial areas to avoid a city in which too many people have EV’s they can only charge at home, from the grid, during evening peak demand.
Strengthening our active transport infrastructure
Micro-mobility systems like electric bikes and scooters have revolutionized active transport – a critical part of our transition away from fossil fuels. We need to rapidly roll out street infrastructure that encourages the safe use of e-rideables and makes walking safer too. There is a suite of clear, quick-win measures that can be deployed almost anywhere – including traffic calming, reduced speed limits and better access to and between cycle paths. Cycle paths must be designed as a network which serves most of the users’ needs, and not as a series of solitary sections leading to nowhere. They must also have protection from heat to stay useable in increasingly longer, hotter summers – and so must retain mature trees and green spaces.
State-local government flexibility
Participants noted that regulation needs to be easier to implement and should be more flexible for different needs at a local government (LGA) level. LGAs would like to embed sustainable transport opportunities into future infrastructure planning and development, but they are limited by what is mandated by the WA state government and the federal government. They also have limited options to offer incentives and feel that stronger state-level guidance or regulation would enable them to enforce better sustainability practices.
The state government could help with this challenge by embedding sustainable public transport into future development planning that meets the community expectations that LGAs are noting. It could also mandate minimum targets, provide guidelines and adequately fund sustainable transport developments.
A very quick, very simple win for slashing public transport emissions would be to immediately change the Public Transit Authority’s order for a fleet of diesel buses to electric buses. CAT buses can easily be changed to electric. The current trial of electric buses in Joondalup is certainly a good start, but somewhat unnecessary – electric vehicle technology is long-established and trusted around the world.
Decentralising the public transport network
An inter-nodal public transport system could use trams or electric light rail to fill the gaps in our existing Transperth map. Public transport needs to go to the areas where people work outside of the city centre instead of forcing all passengers into the city and then out again. Buses and trains that go where people need them in a more distributed way are likely to have more users as they alleviate the inconvenience of having to either ‘travel backwards’ or take multiple trips. The City of Stirling and Curtin University’s trackless tram project is a good example of adapting a centralised system into an inter-nodal one. This inner-city form of transport would be extremely useful if integrated around transport-orientated hubs in a ‘circle-route’ across suburbs. This is the goal of the South West Group, a longstanding alliance of six Local Governments calling for the State government to prepare a network plan for mid-tier public transport in Perth.
Participants said they would welcome a general effort to improve the commuter experience on public transport so it is used more frequently – for example, better lighting at and around bus stops and running more frequent services. There’s also a strong case for designing flexible space for bicycles on peak-hour trains that will not inconvenience other passengers. This is a standard feature of trains in cycle-strong cities like Copenhagen.
We can amplify the benefits of cost-of-living savings by investing in sustainable transport. Cars (and the fuel they need!) are expensive, not to mention insurance, roadside assistance and parking fees. People on low incomes may not be able to afford a car, and this limits their available work opportunities. If people with jobs dependant on car mobility lose their vehicle due to accident or break down, they cannot work and are left without pay. Free and widely available public transportation is the best and most accessible solution for low-carbon transport for now. We can take this unique opportunity to do several things at once by embedding better low-income access, embedding better disability access and using zero-carbon technology at all levels of the transport system and across the whole passenger journey.
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