Spending on roads eclipses rail investment by at least four times: ACF

GOVERNMENTS across Australia are spending at least four times more on building roads and bridges than on public transport infrastructure, according to a new analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

According to the analysis, over the past decade, all levels of governments spent 4.3 times more on construction of public roads and bridges than on public railway construction.

ACF called for greater investment in public and active transport to help mitigate the impacts of rising petrol prices, address increasing carbon pollution issues and provide for the transport needs of a rapidly growing population

"As people feel the pinch of rising petrol prices and concern about carbon pollution increases, more Australians are using public and active transport, but government planning and expenditure is not keeping up with this trend," said ACF sustainable cities program manager Monica Richter.

"Governments continue to preference road building and reward car drivers… We need governments to tip the scales and prioritise investment in sustainable transport," she said.

Ms Richter said that two thirds of the transport budget should be spent on public and active transport, with the remaining third spent on roads. 

The ACF report includes a graph showing each state's 10 year average spending on roads versus spending on other transport, as a percentage of gross state product (GSP).

The report finds that in 2008-09, $11.3 billion was spent on road construction in Australia, $5 billion was provided as subsidies by the Federal Government through the Fuel Tax Credits program and another $1 billion was spent through the Fringe Benefits Tax to encourage the private use of company cars.  In the same period, $3.3 billion was spent on rail construction.

However, the graph shows that total railway investment as a percentage of GDP has generally been trending upwards since 2000-01, but is still eclipsed by spending on roads and bridges.

Citing a pattern of significant underspending on public transport infrastructure by all Australian states and territories, the ACF said that Australia is "ill equipped to meet the serious and multiple transport challenges of this century, including congestion, carbon pollution, air pollution and rising petrol prices."

"Public transport has been and continues to be the poor second cousin, with a lack of planning and budgetary priority, despite policies that have seen Australia's population grow rapidly," the report states, despite finding that there is an increasing usage of public and active transport and a slowing growth rate of car usage.

In the report, the ACF calls for national public and active transport targets to:

  • Double the number of trips made by public transport in all major cities in the next decade;
  • Triple the number of cycling trips made within ten years; and
  • Quadruple the number of walking trips within a decade.

The Foundation also called on Australian governments to commit to developing a national strategy to reduce Australia's demand for, and vulnerability to, imported oil.

The report, 'Australia's Public Transport: Investment for a clean transport future', is available from the Australian Conservation Foundation website at <>.

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