Sunday, June 15, 2008

TODs and the All-You-Can-Drink Theory

"Transport-Oriented Developments" are high-density developments within walking distance of rail (or other) public transport. They are the centrepeice of the government's new urban development policy, and are to be applauded. They are, in my view, the first steps towards a more European-style of development, higher-density living and a more public-transport oriented society.
Having said that, public transport will not be effective if it is used only during the two peaks- it will be costly and inefficient to use all that space and capital for a service that runs essentially twice a day. People need to begin to consider the possibility that PT will replace, to a large degree, the use of cars. Not just augment traditional traffic flows or assist at the margins, when poorer people drop out of the car market for lack of funds, but actually to replace, significantly, cars as a form of transport.

While on the subject, the state budget included an announcement that registration fees for vehicles are again going up. I would argue this is negative policy, and will, at least to a certain degree, counter-act the Government's good PT policy.
Cars ought to be cheap to own but expensive to run. Everyone should know how to drive, and everyone will have need, sometimes, to drive. Perhaps you slept in and there's an important meeting in 20 minutes. Perhaps it's a Sunday night and you want to go to Church. Perhaps it's a Wednesday night and you need to cross town to go to a friend's birthday gathering. For this reason, cars ought to be cheap to own. This means low registration, competition among sellers, low stamp duty etc., etc..
But the price of petrol ought to be high, representing the cost of each additional journey. Then people will begin to ask, "is this journey necessary, could I make it on public transport?" It might be worth saving the job to spend $20 to drive into and park in town that day. It might be worth $10 to visit your friend on her 30th birthday- just in time to watch her cut the cake. It's all about free choice and market forces. If the price of petrol is high, people will consider making the journey by bus or train, leaving more time.
But if people are committed, but way of expensive registration, exorbitant taxes and a variety of other costs, to a year's worth of driving, PT will be less attractive at any given price of fuel.

So, Mr. Foley. Drop your registration increases and instead slap a little extra on the petrol excise. Use the funds to pay for your PT improvements, and everybody wins.

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