Bold decisions must be made about funding for transport infrastructure.

We have to be bold to shape the future and improve our standard of living. In a state that became known as “beautiful one day, perfect the next”, the stark reality is that, for many of our residents, getting to work from Logan or Ipswich, or truckies driving south from Caboolture, the commute is not beautiful and far from perfect. And it will get much worse without action.

Continued population growth driven by a longing for a warmer climate, affordable housing and a better lifestyle is destined to choke our main commuter arteries. The very things that make it great to live where we do, will kill it.

But there is hope. The next few years will see greater change in the transportation industry than in previous decades. More technology embedded in our roads, automated vehicles and greater real-time travel information will allow us to make more of our time, travel faster and most importantly, be safer.

But first some facts. Funding for infrastructure in this country is systemically broken. Our roads are funded through a mix of vehicle registration and tax on petrol.

The latter is reducing quickly as more efficient cars become the norm. The end result is that our traditional funding base is shrinking.

What’s worse, the current system is unfair. Someone with a late model car pays much less tax, while someone with a 20-year-old gas guzzler pays more.

Growth in our cities is still heavily weighted to the outer suburbs. Much is made of apartment growth in Brisbane. In the last five years we have seen high growth in apartment living but this only equates to 17,000 new dwellings. This compares to 41,000 new homes in the outer suburbs. However, the highest concentration of jobs remains in the CBD area. This results in a growing need for CBD access and enhanced commuter options.

While some argue for “alternative city centres”, the world experience is that the majority of employers want to be centrally located with broad access to the best talent from all corners of the city. There is nothing to suggest Brisbane will buck this global trend.

So, what do we do?

First, embrace technology. The days of building our way out of congestion are almost behind us. We need better lane efficiency and more efficient motorway entry and exit points. We need trains linking better with buses and commuters. New technologies make this more achievable. We can build on the experience of other cities, such as the use of dynamically-tolled Express Lanes around the Washington DC area, reversible lanes that go in the direction of peak traffic and ramp metering. In other areas, we may be a test bed for new technology.

Second, we must find ways to spread the load. Genuinely flexible workplace policies, more easily accessible real-time and predictive travel-time information, and the adoption of a mobility-as-a-service mindset have the potential to spread out peak hour traffic and give us all a better run.

Mobility as a service? Younger Australians are delaying getting their driver’s licence. They are happy to share an Uber with a friend or even ride-share with a stranger. The ownership of a car is no longer the priority it once was.

This has far-reaching consequences. No car in the drive but an app on your phone to call the latest, personalised service to get you where you need to go. The cost of a car removed from your budget.

But technology will only get us so far. We need our roads to have a sustainable funding base. They are the last utility that are not priced on a per use basis, like water or electricity. With pricing comes more awareness of our own use of the road network. But it must be fair and people must have valid alternative options.

Third, and maybe most importantly, we must be up for the fight. Our political leaders must be daring. Transurban’s Logan Enhancement Project is an example. A major enhancement of the Logan Motorway funded through a rise in truck tolls may not be expected to attract the endorsement of trucking groups – and yet, with sustained and respectful engagement, that is exactly what the major trucking groups provided. In fact one truck operator commented: “If the Government doesn’t think we are paying more than the proposed toll increase now, with all of our trucks sitting in congestion, they are dreaming.

“Get our trucks moving and we will be better off, even with a higher toll.”

Truckies are rationalists – lost time is lost money. So what does the future of transport look like? The reality is we cannot possibly know all of the opportunities the future will bring. What we must do is accept that our century-old road funding system is broken and will not support our future transport landscape.

With this acceptance comes an appetite for courage and exploration and a mindset of ‘let’s give it a go’. Transportation is not like the weather. We don’t have to put up with it – we can shape it. Achieve that and we truly will be beautiful one day and perfect the next.

This article originally appeared in the Courier Mail on 6 September 2017.

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