If you ask most Australians today what concerns them most, they are likely to answer that the ever-increasing cost of living is the number one concern. The rising cost of gasoline, in particular, is a factor that flows through the transportation sector to impact the overall economy.
This trend, which is felt around the world, is exacerbated by the tension in the Persian Gulf and the impending confrontation with Iran. Then there is the impact of rapidly developing economies like China and its insatiable thirst for oil.
Many commentators believe that if we haven’t reached “peak oil” yet, we will soon. And as demand increasingly outstrips supply, the crisis will worsen.
The objective of this document is to consider the crisis in the transport sector: from the need for green and efficient alternatives, to the imperative to provide a transitional transport supply infrastructure, as part of a “transport revolution”.
Transport economics in crisis
Given the skyrocketing price of oil, it could reasonably be assumed that there are already sufficient incentives for governments around the world to take decisive action and restructure their transport economies in favor of profitable and renewable solutions.
The Rudd government’s proposed emissions trading plan, applied to gasoline, seemed destined to raise prices by as much as 10 cents a liter.
In response to criticism, the government said it would cut excise taxes on gasoline for three years so that the overall effect would be revenue neutral.
However, there is still a strong case for transitioning beyond the kind of dependence on oil that we have now. For both the environment and sheer efficiency, there are arguments in favor of the public transport alternative and investment in hybrid and electric car technology.
The debate is now crucial: push Australian governments to reform and restructure transport economies in favor of cost-effective, sustainable and renewable solutions.
The case of public transport
Public transport is a much more energy efficient and less carbon intensive alternative than gasoline vehicles. The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has studied the energy efficiency of public transport compared to private. To break the numbers down: an average gasoline car will cost about 3.7 megajoules (MJ) per passenger-kilometer (pkm). However, an electric train operates at a speed of between 0.04 and 0.18 MJ per km, which makes rail transport up to 92 times more energy efficient.
From an environmental and energy-conscious perspective, it is undeniable that it is imperative to prioritize increasing public transportation sponsorship and improving infrastructure and services.
But how affordable is public transport, considering Melbourne’s example, compared to the current fare system?
Meanwhile, based on the RACV figures, the PTUA compares the cost of operating a used car with that of daily use of public transport: “… even used cars, which are already fully paid for and ‘run on the smell of an oily rag ‘can cost more than a thousand dollars more in annual registration and fuel than the most expensive annual Metcard. ” Here, the “annual running costs” are “$ 2918”.
By comparison, the PTUA has noted that (relative to the Victorian example): “Metlink annual tickets are $ 1,117 for zone 1, $ 748 for zone 2, or $ 1,722 for zones 1 + 2.”
However, despite the competitive cost of public transportation, many still choose to use their cars for convenience. And also the above figures may seem misleading considering that car transport can be relatively profitable compared to public transport in the case of short trips. It is critical that these disincentives for public transportation use are addressed.
As Royce Millar and Simon Mann have argued:
“Only one in 20 suburban dwellers uses public transport to get to work. In the relatively transport-rich urban center, the figure is one in five. Citywide, only 9% of all trips are made. performed by bus, train or tram “.
The public transport infrastructure and rolling stock in Australia need to be updated to accommodate increased patronage and to provide excellent and convenient service (including increased frequency) at competitive prices for all citizens.
The PTUA is launching a campaign to improve the regularity of public transportation services to provide convenience to consumers. The campaign has been named Every 10 minutes everywhere.
There is a particularly urgent need to expand transport networks to the urban periphery of major cities, where services are often especially poor.
In fact, by international comparison, there is a lot of room to improve the affordability of public transport in Australia’s cities. The PTUA notes, for example, that the Canadian city of Vancouver enjoys rates around half the cost of Melbourne.
To conclude: the need to revolutionize the transport economy – invest in public transport and rail freight – is undeniable. So is the need for a radical reform of Australian public transport fare structures.
Such are the environmental, equity and fiscal imperatives we face.
Transportation from a different perspective: hybrid and electric car technology
Alongside the imperative to revolutionize the provision of public transportation is the issue of hybrid and electric car technology. Environmental and cost-of-living pressures are bringing the need for such innovation to a head.
Wikipedia notes that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are currently capable of traveling about 100km per day on battery power alone, after which the car is reverted to a petroleum engine. Running the petrol engine thereafter helps to recharge the vehicle’s battery. In particular, 100 km a day is more than most people need in their daily use. But the hybrid system provides flexibility on long trips, when needed.
The investigation is ongoing, and Wikipedia also notes that:
“Advanced battery technology is being developed that promises higher energy densities in both mass and volume, and is expected to increase battery life.”
Some researchers, however, believe that more work should be done to develop more efficient and “green” alternatives such as “fuel cell cars that can use fuels from sustainable sources, such as hydrogen.” However, unfortunately, many assume that hydrogen fuel cells will not provide a commercial alternative before 2025.
If PHEVs are the best option available for the next 20 years, then the challenge is making the technology affordable. In fact, it is a basic “cost of living” problem essential to the transportation framework of the entire economy.
A major challenge here could be the subsidization and even the socialization of the gasoline supply during the transition period. The goal, in this case, is to make private transportation affordable for those with lower incomes, who may not have the immediate means to “upgrade” to new technology.
As part of this process, the Australian government has a key role: to partner with other governments and automotive companies to promote the research and development of PHEVs and hydrogen fuel cells to make it affordable for all.
Other government functions may also include driving the adoption of micro-renewable energy solutions, to complement the shift to a “green private transportation economy.”
A revolution in transportation infrastructure, including improved public transportation and the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicle technology, can provide better value and efficiency even while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We need to speak up and make sure our voices are heard so that decisive action is taken, now.