Freight short-shifted in city transport report

As our larger jurisdictions in Sydney and Melbourne re-open their economies after months of lockdown, it is vital that civic leaders do as much as possible to attract people back to the cities for work and recreation to support and rejuvenate crippled businesses.

Access to these and other jurisdictions is always important, but especially so right now with shops and restaurants needing reliable supply chains to re-stock shelves and pantries and support their recovery.

So, it was disappointing that a report commissioned by the City of Melbourne to assess transport activity and identify actions to support its recovery from the pandemic ignored supply chains and freight operators that service retail, hospitality and other CBD businesses left devastated by lockdown.

The Deloitte report contained several recommendations to help the city recover from Covid and encourage people to return to the city for work and recreation, with an overwhelming focus on incentivising bicycle and public transport uptake and re-tasking parking infrastructure to support retail and hospitality.

The key interventions recommended by Deloitte included encouraging flexible work hours to manage peak demand, implement real time transport tracking and capacity data of public transport, investigating demand-responsive parking pricing and re-allocating road and parking space for local activation.

Unfortunately, the report was heavily skewed towards cycling and public transport and gave little consideration to workers that relied on motorised vehicles for their livelihood.

Not everyone has the luxury of living within 10 kilometres of the city and being able to jump on a bike or a train to get to work in town, so it’s disconcerting those who drive a car are being marginalised with less parking infrastructure that will cost them even more to use during working hours.

It’s also disappointing freight operators that city traders rely on for deliveries barely rated a mention, with the word ‘freight’ appearing just six times in an 85-page report, compared with 185 uses of the word ‘bicycle’ or ‘bike’. It’s astonishing that a report about transport doesn’t once use the word ‘truck’.

Covid has proven people are quite capable of working from home and if the City of Melbourne genuinely wants to attract people back into town, it shouldn’t be pitting transport modes against each other and alienating those that have no other choice but to drive into the city for work or pleasure.

Deloitte didn’t once consult the freight industry in preparing its report, and if it had the industry would have provided constructive advice about integrating freight transport with people transport.

Freight operators understand the need to balance the provision of infrastructure that underpins an integrated transport network, but this can’t be at the expense of reducing common sense necessities like loading zones for delivery vehicles and lanes that are wide enough to safely accommodate trucks servicing construction sites.

Genuine consultation is not simply providing advice that a report has been prepared – it’s reaching out to understand constraints, needs, challenges and opportunities, and on this measure the Deloitte report completely underwhelms.

A council meeting a few days after the report was released in early October deliberated the report, with most councillors supporting the interventions that were recognised. However, it was also acknowledged that the introduction of cycling infrastructure was rushed, and that more time was needed to understand the impact on the broader transport network.

The VTA welcomes the pause in the deployment of dedicated bicycle lanes on the city’s road network that was unanimously supported in the meeting, so a proper evidenced-based assessment of where this infrastructure can be most effectively deployed can be made.

The ad hoc placement we have now of dedicated bike lanes on virtually every city street is not an effective way to use the road network. Studies are needed to inform where this infrastructure is needed, as well as the safety and practical limitations it may present for other modes of transport.

The VTA supports the separation of cycling traffic from buses and trucks. However, the placement of this infrastructure must be guided by traffic flow analysis and other intelligence that unfortunately was never collected.

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