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Friday, 22 November 2013

Congestion Costs All Of Us

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The Environmental Protection Authority has rightly drawn attention to the contribution of motor vehicles to the high levels of ozone often found in the air that we breathe in Perth. 

Ozone is literally an irritant, which poses health risks, but it is by no means the only problem that arises from our over-reliance on the private car. Even setting aside issues of climate change, high traffic volumes cause congestion and community severance.

Congestion is a self-interest issue for car drivers. Every time we drive our cars, it costs us up to 20 cents a kilometre in fuel and maintenance costs. We impose another 20 cents on other road users for each kilometre we drive, through slower travel times and higher fuel and maintenance costs in stop-start traffic.

In peak periods, we impose 30 cents of cost on others for each kilometre we drive.

And have pity on those communities that are severed by the major roads we drive along and the heavy traffic we are part of. Whether this severance is planned (as with freeways and controlled-access highways) or unplanned (as with inner-urban centres that straddle arterial roads such as Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley, and Fitzgerald Street, North Perth), traffic-related severance makes places less attractive (for both people and businesses) and more difficult for people to get from one part another - ironically increasing the likelihood that they will need to use a car to get around locally. 

Funding and traffic priority for public transport is part of the solution, but we also need to focus on improving local accessibility on foot and by bicycle. This includes improving access - not simply providing more car parking - to train stations. At many train stations, 40% of cars parked all day are registered within 3 kilometres of the station, but walk or cycle distances are often greater because of the lack of direct walk/cycle facilities.

The bottom line, though, is that most of us make journeys by car that we could easily make by other means. One in ten car trips is less than one kilometre and one in three is less than three kilometres. 

The solution to congestion lies as much with us as individuals, making appropriate choices about our travel, as it does with us as community, making suitable investments in transport so that we have real alternatives to choose from.

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