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Victoria’s Draft 30-year Infrastructure strategy

Transport for Melbourne (TfM) welcomes the invitation by IV for community feedback and submissions for its draft 30-year Plan. We appreciate the opportunity to review it and discuss fundamental assumptions that underpin it as well as the principle objectives and guiding principles that have been used to develop the plan.

Submission by Transport for Melbourne 21 February 2021

General comments  

Transport for Melbourne (TfM) welcomes the invitation by IV for community feedback and submissions for its draft 30-year Plan. We appreciate the opportunity to review it and discuss fundamental assumptions that underpin it as well as the principle objectives and guiding principles that have been used to develop the plan. There are a number of key principles we support and think it appropriate these be restated in our submission.  

TfM acknowledges the need for an infrastructure plan to be developed based on a framework that best meets community aspirations and values for this State, supported by guiding principles and processes which enable projects to be evaluated and ranked to ensure the program meets the needs of Victorians and provides the best possible return on investment for the community based on a triple bottom line evaluation process.   

This plan must acknowledge (and we believe IV does) that physical infrastructure cannot solve all problems. Further, that the prime function of physical infrastructure is to support social, community and business services and activity and that it is critical this be provided, managed and maintained in the most cost effective and efficient manner to meet these needs. It is a waste of money if it fails to do so recognising benefits are maximised if the service values/outputs are maximised and the cost of providing, managing and maintaining the infrastructure are minimised.  

It follows that physical infrastructure has no intrinsic value on its own and pursued in isolation simply becomes an exercise in temple building which can be used/abused for political purposes with little accountability. We believe that in the absence of good governance and proper process this can have a very damaging impact with profound implications at all levels – socials, economic, political.  

An extension of the above is our concern for the need for good governance and adherence to proper process. This has been a growing concern and was the subject of Transport for Melbourne’s annual forum in 2017. This issue will become increasingly critical in the future and it is pleasing that this is reflected in IV’s plan.  

We agree it is important that a plan be developed with goals/objectives and guiding principles to achieve them. IV has listed ten of these. These must be linked with scenarios for the future – the future we must plan for. Without this planning is merely wishful thinking and a waste of time. IV rightly considers the need for short, medium and long term planning horizons, recognising that the future is becoming very uncertain and difficult to plan for, and there is a compelling need to provide flexibility and adaptability/agility as conditions change or underlying assumptions become invalid.  

Covid has demonstrated how quickly and profoundly situations can change. It has exposed our vulnerability to sudden shocks and the need for planning to reflect this. This is of particular relevance for the design and provision of physical infrastructure, much of which tends to be set in concrete with a high risk of becoming a stranded asset as conditions change.  

IV has rightly drawn attention to climate and environmental change and the need to respond.  

Climate Emergency  

The dimensions, scale, complexity and urgency of this issue have not been reflected in IV’s 30-year plan and targets and assumptions used in it are outdated. This has profound implications for many of the of key assumptions in the plan and the integrity of the plan itself.  

Environmental change and its implications for the future was the subject of the Sustainable Cities Sustainable Transport forum held in 2009, and updated on 4th December 2020. The program for both forums and forum summary are attached. [1] Prof Will Steffen who presented at both forums has, as a member of The Climate Targets Panel in January 2021 titled Australia’s Paris Agreement Pathways: Updating Climate Change Authority’s 2014 Emission Reduction Targets presented the following key findings     

“As the Secretary General of the United Nations has repeatedly warned, we are in a climate emergency. The window for action is closing, with recent research suggesting climate tipping points may be breached very soon. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology recently gave evidence to the Australian Parliament that the country is on track for 4.4°C of warming this century. This would be catastrophic for our society, health, economy and environment”. 

The Climate Targets Panel has concluded:  

To be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target must be 74% below 2005 levels, with net-zero emissions reached by 2035.  

As noted above, Transport for Melbourne’s annual forum round table on the 4th December 2020, reviewed the dimensions and scale of these issues with even more compelling findings. Whilst reduction of Greenhouse emissions are critical, actions to reduce them, will not on their own be sufficient to address our climate emergency. The need to address the degradation of the biosphere is becoming increasingly critical and will soon become the factor that ultimately drives climate change/global warming and determines our fate. Despite this, governments have not responded with targets on this issue. It is also clear that emission reduction targets will continue to be reviewed and revised as modelling becomes more sophisticated and the climate situation evolves. It is feasible that targets outlined in the report above may already be outdated. Prof David Karoly indicated at our forum that we need an even greater reduction of 125% by 2030 and that there are some potential shocks in the science that have still to be published.  It was also proposed that 4.4 degrees may well be lower limit and could be as high as 6 degrees. But this is a global figure and for Australia the figure will be significantly higher.    

Some of the critical actions required to respond to our climate emergency include the need to     

  • Reduce our consumption and the demands we make on the planet’s natural resources    
  • A giant Landcare/Earthcare project to restore much of the environment we have trashed – not just in Australia but throughout the world 
  • Huge waste reduction, reuse and effective recycling programs to reduce the poisoning impact on our planet and the demand we make on it harvesting the resources we need  
  • These activities will create many new jobs but we need to value these jobs properly and financially  
  • Change the way we produce and harvest food – it is this activity which is the cause of many of our environmental problems today  
  • The need for a fundamental shift in mindset about the limits to growth (both population and economic) recognising that we have already passed them in a biophysical sense and that sooner or later we will be forced to depopulate remembering that if we don’t the planet will do it for us. This is also a reminder that contrary to current thinking and expectations, technology will not solve our problems. The evidence overwhelmingly points to the risk that on its own technology will most likely make matters worse and must be used as a support for behavioural change.       

Implications of global biophysical change are profound and will impact all societies at every level: the way people live and work, particularly in our cities, what jobs have value, the population that can be supported, how communities can be fed, serviced, maintained and managed, land use and how the economy is structured. 

It has been clear for many decades there are no magic single fix solutions to this challenge. It is a problem that has been generated by the social, economic and political “system” that underpins modern human societies. This “system” has operated for thousands of years but the impact has accelerated significantly since the Industrial revolution and again since WW2 largely as a result of huge advances in science and technology that have enable humanity to plunder the natural resources and degrade/destroy the biosphere to such an extent that humanity is now living beyond the capacity of planet earth to support us and in a way that is contributing to climate change and global warming. Further, that business as usual will put us on a hothouse trajectory that will be irreversible and ultimately lead to our extinction – most likely well before the end of this century. 

It is this system with its beliefs, expectations, values and behaviours that must change.

Prof Johan Rockstrom (Potsdam, Germany ) described our situation in late 2019 as so serious it will require an effort equivalent to the Apollo program to achieve success. Apollo was a large-scale concerted effort involving science, politics, the public sector and industry employing resilience and creativity. There was a common goal. With climate, he argues there is little time left. We have less than ten years to transition the whole world to a new logic. Success or failure lies in our hands.  

Implications for IV’s 30-year Plan 

Broader issues   

The implications for IV’s 30-year plan are profound. Every single issue addressed in the plan has been on the basis of incremental change and business as usual parameters and projections to varying degrees. All of these will become outdated and invalidated very quickly as the impact of rapid environmental change manifests itself and will do so in a way that challenges traditional values and behaviours, expectations and aspirations within our existing social, economic, political “system”. It is a system that will be have to change, whether we like it or not and in the process put under enormous stress. We believe this must be reflected in IV’s plan.  

Limits to Growth 

Many of the recommendations developed in IV’s 30-plan have been based on the expectation of continuing population and economic growth. It is critical that limits to growth are reflected in this plan with an understanding that these have already been exceeded and whilst there is some momentum for further population growth this will be limited and quickly reversed before long.  

Limits to Growth was the subject of the Club of Rome’s report in the early 1970’s which has been updated regularly since, including 2008 by Dr Graham Turner (CSIRO) with findings presented at the 2009 forum. These projections excluded the impact of climate change. With its inclusion and the compounding impact it provides, societies are rapidly approaching tipping points which will have profound implications for the provision of the necessities of life – particularly food and fresh water at a time when traditional practices are coming under increasing scrutiny and pressure to change. Under this scenario all objectives in IV’s plan need to be challenged and replaced by a one’s that provide a response to the impending climate emergency and “system change” in which the word sustainable is replaced by “survival” and notions of growth become irrelevant.

System Change, Goals, Priorities and Time Frames

The climate emergency has been predicted for many decades and many voices have been warning of the need to act. It is a scenario that few political leaders have been prepared to acknowledge let alone embrace and scientific evidence indicates that the worse case scenario might be an underestimate of the future we must plan for. It is recommended therefore that the maximum time frame for IV can be no more than 10 years ie the time required to achieve system change and targets outlined above. Anything beyond must be considered highly problematic at best, or irrelevant and most likely an acknowledgement of failure.  Recommendations should be designed to contribute to the following goals ie outlined above with measurable targets 

  1. Reduction of greenhouse emissions based on latest targets by the Climate Targets Panel but anticipate these may be tightened further ie to 125% by 2030 or even more    
  2. Reduce consumption of everything, particularly of natural resources 
  3. Stop degradation of the biosphere – every aspect of it and commence restoration as a top priority immediately 
  4. Mechanisms to commence system change at all levels.

Items 2 and 3 have already been noted earlier. Governance and proper process will become critical factors in progressing item 4.

Priority should be given to

  • proposals that provide a direct response to the climate emergency consistent with the necessary “system” transformation  
  • programs and projects that provide outcomes/outputs that can be measured against environmental targets on a system wide basis rather than inputs or wishful thinking based on business as usual  
  • measures that deliver benefits quickly – the shorter the better because time is critical. We cannot wait for large scale projects to be completed. It is unlikely any of the mega- infrastructure projects in the State Government’s big build would comply anyway. At the very least they should be independently reviewed and a system developed for prioritising them that is consistent with environment goals and targets   
  • ignore concerns about the need to support industries and services that will have no future – the challenge for the airline industry for example to meet zero green house emissions by 2030 is immense. Almost certainly it will become a sunset industry with stranded assets – public and private 
  • support industries that have a future and contribute to goals and targets outlined above and the system transformation necessary to make it happen  
  • projects that deliver behavioural change. This will include those that use technology as an aid to achieve it rather than a means on its own, but many of the levers required to achieve behavioural change may not be technology based.

Whilst it is tempting to recommend individual projects, greatest impacts will occur from initiatives that promote behavioural change within the system as a whole. This can be achieved by applying levers where small interventions in one area create larger changes system wide, with impacts that can be measured and compared against system goals and targets. It must be recognised that there are no single fix solutions. Many of the initiatives will require the creation of new jobs and new industries and opportunities for government to invest. This can become a mechanism for addressing many of social/poverty issues.

Transport Implications

Transport is a derived demand based on the social, economic, technological, political and environmental system that prevails at the time and will be subject to profound change. Current modelling, largely based on business as usual must be replaced with one that reflects the need to respond to the climate emergency.

Transport goals must be to travel less, less often and more efficiently. Government must provide the incentives to do so this with appropriate design and management of its stock of infrastructure. Government must make more efficient use of existing infrastructure and resist the temptation to build more. There will be increasing pressure to do this as communities come under increasing social and economic stress as environmental pressure mounts.  Achieving zero emissions must be based on emissions from every part of the lifecycle including imbedded energy, maintenance, renewal etc and calculated on a whole of life basis. This has huge implications for all modes of transport including public transport. The only mode that meets this target for personal travel at this time is active transport – walking and cycling.

This in turn has implications for transport infrastructure and the need to reduce its cost and promote most efficient modes of travel. This is of particular significance for freeways and tollways which promote more travel rather than less, encourage people to travel longer distances rather than shorter and more often using least efficient modes (cars and trucks). The inevitable increase in social and economic stress caused by environmental change will also challenge government’s ability to finance high cost infrastructure, particularly mega infrastructure projects in the State government’s Big Build program.

Concluding Comments

The integrity of any plan depends on the assumptions and guiding principles that underpin it. Any flaws will cast doubt on the integrity of the entire plan. The fatal flaw in IV’s latest 30-year draft plan is its failure to accept that climate and environmental change is manifesting itself not just as a challenge for the future but in a way that threatens all life on the planet and as a consequence must be classified as a climate emergency and addressed as the top priority.

This requires a fundamental change in mindset and reinforces the need to abandon a number of assumptions that have contributed to the current situation. This includes the need for continuing growth (population and economic), reliance on technology to solve our environmental problems and a belief that this can be done in a way that avoids radical system change – a change that reflects our values, aspirations/expectations and choices we make in the way we live. In other words it overturns the popular view by politicians, policy makers and the business community that our climate emergency can be resolved largely by bolting a greenhouse reduction program driven by technology onto “business as usual”.

In this respect the response to the Covid “emergency” is instructive. During the last year it has resulted in a significant reduction in greenhouse emissions, particularly in transport, but this has not been the result of technology or market forces. It has been driven by behavioural change forced by the pandemic itself and government intervention which has been supported in turn by existing technology – not new. The climate emergency will force far greater and more profound change and like covid demand major behavioural change and this will have to be driven by government intervention – not market forces, with technology playing a supporting role. Covid has also demonstrated that in the event of an emergency the need to act is now – one cannot wait for new technology and rely on it to solve the problem.  The same rationale applies to infrastructure and mega-infrastructure projects with long lead times.

Politicians, policy makers and planners have failed to grasp these imperatives but mindsets are changing as evidence of the rapidly changing world and its impact on humanity becomes increasingly apparent. IV has an opportunity to reflect this in its plan and cite the overwhelming scientific evidence to support it. TfM believes the criteria which underpin program recommendations must as a consequence be revisited and changed in light of the above.  

It is also recommended that infrastructure needs be assessed on the basis of comprehensive plans designed specifically to meet environment goals outlined above instead of on the basis an adhoc list of projects.

Comment On Specific Recommendations

There are some proposals outlined in the 30-year plan that have merit in the short term. Some are no brainers that have been recommended for many years and should be actioned immediately. We also have concerns about others. These are reviewed briefly in general terms below.

  1. Preparation of environmental scenarios based on latest scientific evidence is critical.  This must include social, political and economic impacts to confirm the future we must plan for. This is something TfM has been arguing for many years 
  2. Improved governance and accountability is essential and must be reflected in every aspect of government activity. The need to prepare (and publish) a transport plan for Victoria is only one example, but such a plan must be consistent with environmental goals and targets outlined in this submission and open to public scrutiny  
  3. Improved energy efficiency is important for all activities, not just for households. Phasing out of coal power generation and gas and replaced with renewable energy is critical but this needs to be supported by a proper plan that encourages people and business to use less power in the first place  
  4. We support a number of IV’s public transport recommendations, such as network improvements for buses and trams and other service improvements, including the introduction of electric buses but all of these must be developed as part of a comprehensive public transport service plan that includes all PT modes, with clear objectives, and targets that contribute to global targets for the transport system as a whole 
  5. Reallocation of road space to priority modes is critical and must also be an integral part of the PT service plan but must also be seen as part of a holistic transport strategy for the system as a whole  
  6. Active transport is the only form of transport that is remotely sustainable and an environment must be created that makes this a mode of first choice for many more trips. We don’t need more data on this – we know what to do and must get on with the job of making it happen  
  7. Concerns regarding congestion and travel behaviour need to be reviewed – but need to be thought of in terms of system inefficiency and a systems based strategy that includes service and regulatory levers rather than the band-aid approach proposed on this plan. There are many ways to change travel behaviour – pricing is only one and a very inefficient one at that. Reliance on this alone is simplistic and will deliver poor outcomes   
  8. TfM does not support the recommendation to charge different PT modes separately. PT works as a system and pricing must reflect this.    
  9. Similar comment applies to numerous recommendations on road pricing in this plan. There are other ways of looking at this which have been discussed in a paper prepared by TfM    
  10. The need for integrated transport and land use planning has been acknowledged for decades – but requires one that integrates land use with all modes of travel, not just the motor car   
  11. Waste reduction is critical but it is important this be carried out comprehensively. There will be no simple single fix solutions  
  12. Increased tree canopy for our cities is important but is a first step towards a major habitat restoration program noted earlier in our submission 
  13. The need for more public housing has been acknowledged for a long time, but there are many ways of doing this. Building more public housing is only one way of achieving this 
  14. TfM has serious concerns about the State government’s Big Build projects. They are too costly, take too long, most will have a perverse environmental impact and even the best of them will make a minimal contribution to environmental goals and targets. All run the risk of becoming stranded assets very quickly and leave Victoria with a huge debt burden 
  15. The climate emergency will require mega programs to progress “system” change. These may require some physical infrastructure but it is not yet clear what this might be.

R D Taylor

Roger Taylor
Chair Transport for Melbourne

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