Brisbane's traffic congestion worsened markedly last week with the return of students to university. The underlying trend is more disturbing. Authoritative predictions that Brisbane will be Australia’s most congested city in just a decade seem likely to be fulfilled.
Congestion is costly: it delays people and goods and increases stress and traffic accidents; it greatly increases fuel consumption and vehicle emissions; it chokes economic growth.
Will Labor, Liberal or Green policies to combat congestion in Brisbane be effective? Are better strategies available?
Labor is focused on reallocation of resources from roads to heavy subsidies for public transport, including construction of busways/lanes and allocation of more road space to bus lanes. Labor does not want more radial roads to major activity centres, particularly the CBD. Labor proposes more bypass roads but will apply tolls on some major facilities. It also proposes higher parking costs.
A Labor council would investigate anti-congestion charges and seek to apply them if other policy actions prove ineffective. But congestion charges are not Queensland government policy.
The centrepiece of Liberal anti-congestion policy is a network of five road tunnels (including Labor’s North-South Bypass) linking inner-city suburbs. Each segment is to be tolled.
Liberal policy also includes intersection improvements and a possible bypass road skirting Brisbane's western suburbs.
Liberal policy proposes more subsidies for Brisbane’s bus system, including more busways. It excludes “punitive measures that try to force people on to inefficient, inconvenient bus services”.
The Greens want to reallocate funds from roads to public transport subsidies. This includes transit lanes along all arterial roads, and an inner-city light rail system. They advocate higher parking costs, particularly for vehicles entering or leaving the CBD in peak periods. Entry to the CBD could be restricted by a pass system.
Labor and Liberal policies recognise the value of bypass or ring roads, but no party proposes a comprehensive system of inner, intermediate and outer ring roads. The RACQ believes this is essential to remove through-traffic volumes (more than 40 per cent of the total) from radial roads to major activity centres.
Liberal and Labor plans to apply tolls to new bypass roads are not sensible. Tolls undermine the congestion-alleviating effects of bypasses and shift congestion elsewhere. Tolls would add to fuel/motoring taxes that already cover social costs of road use. They would exempt vehicles adding to congestion and charge those reducing it.
The political parties’ intended restriction of radial-road capacity to major activity centres is perverse. It means worse congestion as population and economic activity grow.
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