If you ask most Australians today what worries them most, chances are they will respond that the ever-spiralling cost-of-living is of prime concern. The rising cost of petrol, in particular, is one factor which flows on through the transport sector to impact upon the broader economy.
This tendency - felt worldwide - is worsened by tension in the Persian Gulf, and looming confrontation with Iran. In addition, there is the impact of rapidly developing economies like China and their insatiable thirst for oil.
Many commentators believe if we have not already reached “Peak Oil” we will do so soon. And as demand increasingly outstrips supply the crisis is set to worsen.
The aim of this paper is to consider the transport sector crisis: from the need for green and efficient alternatives, to the imperative of providing transitional transport supply infrastructure - as part of a “transport revolution”.
Transport economy in crisis
Considering the skyrocketing price of oil, it might reasonably be supposed that there is already sufficient incentive for governments worldwide to take decisive action and restructure their transport economies in favour of cost-effective and renewable solutions.
The Emissions Trading Scheme proposed by the Rudd Government - as applied to petrol - looked set to increase prices by as much as 10c a litre.
In response to criticism, the government signalled that it would be cutting petrol excise for three years so as to make the overall effect revenue neutral.
There is still, though, a strong case to transition beyond the kind of oil dependence we now have. Both for the environment and for sheer efficiency there is a case to be put for the public transport alternative - and for investment in electric and hybrid car technology.
Debate is now crucial: to spur Australian governments on to embrace reform and to restructure transport economies in favour of cost-effective, sustainable and renewable solutions.
The case for public transport
Public transport is a far more energy-efficient and is a less carbon-intensive alternative to petrol-driven vehicles. The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has surveyed the energy efficiency of public versus private transport. To break the figures down: an average petrol-run car will cost about 3.7 mega-joules (MJ) per passenger-kilometre (pkm). An electric train, however, operates at a rate of between 0.04 and 0.18 MJ pkm, making train transport as much as 92 times more energy efficient.
From an energy-conscious and environmental perspective the imperative of prioritising increased public transport patronage and improving infrastructure and services is undeniable.
But how affordable is public transport - considering the example of Melbourne - in the face of the current fare system?
The author would like to thank Anthony Morton and Daniel Bowen from the PTUA for their advice. Enquires for PTUA membership can be sent to: Anthony Morton, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The PTUA website can be found here.
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