In February, the NSW Government brought the $5 billion Stage 1 CBD Metro to a grinding halt with the release of its Metropolitan Transport Plan: Connecting the City of Cities. This announcement promises to refocus attention on the Metropolitan Strategy - a broad plan for Sydney's development in terms of planning and transport - released in 2005 and which is currently undergoing its first five-year review.
What does the Metropolitan Transport Plan mean for transport in greater Sydney? Aren't the plans for the North West Rail Link, better busways and a smartcard part of the old plan? And how will the Metropolitan Transport Plan impact Sydney's tourism industry?
Heavy rail commitment
For Western Sydney's commuters the State Government's plan to provide an express train service from Richmond, Penrith, Blacktown and Parramatta to the City offers more seats and travel time savings. Key to this commitment is for the main western rail tracks, which currently terminate at Central Station, to be extended into eight new underground platforms at Redfern, Central, Town Hall and Wynyard Stations. The promise is for more than 10,000 extra seats per hour from Western Sydney and travel time savings of up to 17 minutes from the Blue Mountains, nine minutes from Penrith, seven minutes from Blacktown and six minutes from Parramatta.
The expected project delivery time for the Western Express is 10 years at an estimated cost of $4.53 billion.
The Missing NW and SW Links
The Government's heavy rail commitment is consolidated with the promise to commence construction of the 23 km Epping to Rouse Hill Rail Link in addition to funding already committed for the South West Rail Link. Ultimately the plan is for six new underground stations and a new stabling facility in Sydney's North West, 11 km of twin track in the South West from Glenfield to Leppington, new stations and commuter car parks at Leppington and Edmondson Park. The NW Rail Link will be supported by the doubling of the existing track from Chatswood to St Leonards. While these plans may not be new, they will surely be welcomed by residents of Sydney's high growth NW and SW areas.
The total cost of the NW and SW Rail Links and the Chatswood to St Leonards quadruplication is estimated at $9.55 billion (of which $2.76 billion in spending is planned over the next 10 years) over an estimated 25-year period.
Bring on the buses
The Government plans to purchase 1000 new buses for Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and the Central Coast, and this is in addition to the purchase of 450 buses announced by the Transport Minister in 2008. A key objective of the bus plan is to complete Sydney's network of 43 bus corridors, which was commenced in 2005 as part of the Metropolitan Strategy, to provide more services for both peak and off-peak bus commuters.
The cost of the bus plan is $2.88 billion over 10 years with spending set to continue to maintain the network beyond 2020.
Sustainable light rail for the city
Extending Sydney's light rail from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill and from Haymarket to Circular Quay via Barangaroo is part of the State Government's plan for environmentally friendly public transport for Sydney's inner city. On the drawing board are up to 20 new stations and 10 kms of new track providing six services an hour along the light rail line. The anticipated delivery time for this light rail extension is 10 years at a cost of $500 million.
Modernising Sydney's ferries
The Government intends to replace six of its existing ferry and supercat fleet and allocate funds to capital works and renewal of its wharfs. The planned spend on Sydney's ferries is estimated at $225 million over the next ten years.
On your bike
With 50 percent of households having at least two bicycles and sales of bicycles continuing to grow at a steady pace, it is no surprise that the State Government is set to release the NSW Bike Plan later this year. The Plan will map the new cycleways to support the Government's target of 5percent travel by bike across Sydney by 2016 for all trips less than 10 kms. The anticipated delivery time for a properly connected off-road cycle network in Sydney is 10 years at an estimated cost of $158 million.
From 18 April 2010 the Government's new fare structure - MyZone - will go live. The MyMulti tickets will allow unlimited travel on all Sydney ferries and buses, and travel within particular CityRail zones. The system simplifies fare bands on individual modes of transport in greater Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter as follows:
trains from 20 fare bands to five;
buses from five fare bands to three; and
ferries on buses from five fare bands to two.
Importantly, for the first time bus commuters will be able to purchase one ticket for travel on public or private buses.
MyZone is the first step. The second step is the introduction of a smartcard with automatic top-up which will deduct the correct fare for each journey and will operate on all public transport. The projected date for the roll-out of a smartcard is 2012.
The big spend
While there has been a lot of talk about public transport, a lion's share of the NSW Government's transport spending is reserved for roads. Details include:
an extra lane in each direction on the M2 and M5 Motorways;
work to preserve corridors for a future Outer Sydney Orbital;
roll-out of a motorway management system including offload ramps, electronic message signs, CCTV, incident detection systems and variable speed limits;
upgrade of key arterial roads;
a "pinch point" program for relief of bottlenecks and congestion; and
funding for improvement of connection roads across the state.
The estimated cost of this list of road works is $21.85 billion over ten years and the project is recognised as ongoing.
Better transport for commuters… and tourists?
The Metropolitan Transport Plan promises a raft of benefits for commuters which is little surprise with State elections on track for March 2011. It is fair to say that much of the plan looks familiar and was swept off the table by the now defunct plan for a metro-style train system. The question remains, will any of this multi-billion dollar transport spending attract much-needed tourist dollars to old Sydney town?
The impact on Sydney's tourism industry might seem less tangible than for commuters, until you place yourself in a tourist's shoes in downtown Sydney. The proposed extension of the light rail line will offer a comfortable and familiar transport experience for city tourists in a sustainable package - very inner city. Considering that half of all ferry trips are for tourism or leisure, even the relatively small ferry spend is set to have a big impact on the many tourists keen to visit harbourside destinations such as Manly, Watson's Bay and Luna Park.
Another ace in the plan is the promise for better buses and bus connections which will make it possible to travel in air-conditioned comfort between Sydney's city centres. For tourists familiar with sophisticated multi-nodal transport networks in Europe and Asia the promise of bus transport across Sydney with a reduced focus on the CBD as a nodal point will save time, money and frustration.
Simplified fare structures will mean fewer confused faces, wondering whether to purchase a blue, orange, red, yellow or pink TravelPass at transport information desks across Sydney. And as for the cash injection to Sydney's roads, for the many tourists wishing to escape the hustle and bustle and head to NSW's remote beaches, vineyards and parklands, every dollar spent on roads will convert to time at their wilderness destination.
So now that the Metropolitan Transport Plan is at the station - chock full of eager commuters and tourists - the challenge is to see if it can depart on time and budget, while enjoying a long, smooth run.