City transport requires “major rethink” - report

Australian cities have been deemed highly unsustainable thanks to longstanding issues with urban mobility.

Cars and trucks are choking Australian cities, costing billions of dollars in traffic congestion, harming human health and adding to greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

The report, Delivering Sustainable Urban Mobility, has warned that Australia is heading down the wrong path, with a need for a new approach to urban mobility that prioritises people rather than one particular mode of transport.

Launched earlier this month by Australia's first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs, and Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb AC, the report found that without real change, the cost of urban congestion in our capital cities will increase four-fold in two decades, reaching $53.3 billion by 2031.

“Australian cities are under pressure and we need to find a way of putting people first in urban transport and planning,” Professor Chubb said at the report launch in Canberra.

“New technology can be part of the solution but what we need is long-term, nimble policy development that incorporates the benefits of science and innovation as well as many other disciplines.”

The report highlights how reliant Australians are on cars, with more than 60% of children driven to and from school, making up as much as 17% of peak traffic and contributing to childhood obesity.

It also notes the rapid growth of freight transport in Australian cities, which relies mainly on diesel-powered trucks that have health consequences for residents.

The report also highlights the infrastructure required for cars despite the average car parked at home 80% of the time, parked elsewhere for 16% and on the road only 4% of the time.

In total the report presents 26 key findings with a focus on accessibility, technology and careful planning to enhance sustainable transport solutions.

Some key suggestions from the report include the need for a three-pronged approach to city planning that reduces or avoids the need for travel, shifts to more environmentally friendly transport system, and improves the energy efficiency of transport overall.

It also suggested dense CBD areas with sprawling suburbs should shift to more polycentric cities with “nodes” to bring people closer to places of work and recreation.

Dr Bruce Godfrey, chair of the report’s Expert Working Group, said investment in urban mobility was urgent, especially with the growing transport demands of Australia’s ageing population.

“The lack of investment in transport over the past 40 years means Australia has a major infrastructure deficit which stood at $100 billion in 2014 and is forecast to grow to $350 billion by 2025,” Dr Godfrey said.

The research follows a government report which forecasted Australia’s population is set to reach 37 million by 2050, expected to nearly double the number of people in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.