A NEW 40-year transport plan for Greater Newcastle has been released by the NSW government, promising a range of public transport, road and rail improvements.
The 158-page Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan 2056 follows a 61-page draft document made public in November last year in tandem with a draft of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan 2036, which was finalised and launched earlier this month.
The report is heavily skewed towards wanting people to use more public transport, noting that more than 80 per cent of trips in Greater Newcastle are by private vehicle, with public transport accounting for just 3.2 per cent of travel during the week, and 1 per cent at weekends.
In a section that will provoke further debate in Newcastle, it continues with a strategy of making parking more difficult and expensive as a way of driving public transport use.
In a statement accompanying its release, a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson said the Newcastle plan was one of a series of regional transport plans that sit under a statewide Future Transport 2056 framework.
“The vision for the Greater Newcastle Future Transport plan is for the region’s residents, businesses and visitors to have access to a world class transport system that meets everyone’s needs,” a TfNSW spokesperson said.
“We want to provide customers with more choice around how and when they travel, with turn-up-and-go services on high demand routes, on-demand solutions for more geographically isolated regions and better integration with train stations around Greater Newcastle.”
As always, the reality looks somewhat different from the spin, with many of the proposals – extensions to the light rail and Stockton ferry services being prime examples – described as being many years off in the future.
Priority buses are seen as a precursor to any light rail extension while the Stockton ferry expansion – including possible “on-demand” services related to the proposed cruised terminal – are 10 to 20 years off for the “investigation” stage.
Corridor protection for the Hexham to Fassifern freight rail bypass is in the same category, while electrification of the heavy rail line from Wickham to Maitland – which has been demanded for decades – is more than 20 years away away as one of six “visionary initiatives” in the plan.
Covering the five local government areas of Greater Newcastle – Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock, Maitland and Port Stephens – the plan describes the sorts of transport systems and developments the bureaucracy believes will be needed as Greater Newcastle grows in population.
Although it says Greater Newcastle is “growing rapidly” with population expected to rise from 575,000 to 760,000 by 2056, this is an increase of 0.75 per cent a year – well under the national average of 1.7 per cent and much less than Greater Sydney’s growth of more than 2 per cent a year.
With successful public transport heavily dependent on population density, Greater Newcastle’s relatively slow growth will likely be a factor as future governments look where to spend money on public transport and road and rail infrastructure.
Over the next 40 years, the plan sets a target of more than doubling public transport’s share of travel from 3.2 per cent now to 7.55 per cent in 2056.
On walking and cycling, it sets a target of 17 per cent, compared with the 2015-16 figure of 7.5 per cent.
In comparisons with Waterloo and Halifax in Canada, Portland in the US, Cardiff in the UK and Malmo in Sweden, the plan says Greater Newcastle has “relatively low shares of public transport and walking and cycling in comparison to similar cities internationally”.
But it also notes that: “A large proportion of Greater Newcastle is rural, semi-rural or has low population and employment densities. It is often not cost effective to provide frequent scheduled public transport services to these areas due to their distance to centres and lower level of demand.”
The information on how and why people travel in Greater Newcastle comes from the state government’s Household Travel Survey, in which 5000 households are surveyed at random across the Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra regions every year, with about 3000 to 3500 participating.
The government describes the survey as “the largest and most comprehensive source of personal travel data” available for the region, and the Greater Newcastle plan uses five years of information, from 2011 to 2016, as well as journey to work data from the 2011 Census in its calculations.
As part of its pro-public transport stance, the plan includes a section on parking in “strategic centres” that positions parking as an influence on public transport.
“Previous parking policies have focused on providing parking to meet the demand in centres,” the plan says.
“However, ease of parking results in traffic congestion, decreases the viability of public transport and detracts from the amenity of places as they focus on vehicle access and not access for people.”
It says “sustainability” rather than demand should drive parking supply, citing a need for parking turnover and a push for the “reallocation of all day parking away from centre that are supported by strong public transport networks”.
The plan proposes using on-street parking for short stay uses only and reducing time limits for on-street parking.
It proposes using a “progressive reduction of relative parking supply or pricing as a travel demand management tool to encourage mode shift to public [transport] and active transport [walking and cycling]”.
Across the board, the plan lists 39 transport “initiatives”, which it breaks into four areas: committed within 10 years, for investigation inside 10 years – and then between 10 and 20 years – and “visionary” projects for 20 years and on.
A rapid bus package – a precursor to more light rail – is in the 0-10 year section, as are further improvements to Nelson Bay Road, faster services on the rail line to Sydney and a series of public-transport-related projects including on-demand services (already being run in Lake Macquarie by Keolis Downer) and various “smart” technologies.
The Stockton Ferry route extensions are in the 10-to-20-year section, along with work to “begin the preservation of a corridor” for a north-south high-speed rail running through the region.
The plan stresses the importance of Newcastle Airport to the region, but any improvements to Tomago Road as an airport link from the Pacific Highway are also in the 2026 to 2036 time scale.
Apart from electrifying the Maitland rail line, other “visionary” initiatives include new suburban rail services, including “additional services on the existing rail lines”, a passenger rail service from Newcastle to Cessnock and better freight connections to western NSW.