When you live in a city frequently named the most liveable in the world, it’s easy to become complacent.
But Melbourne’s enviable status as a wonderful place to live is under serious threat from traffic congestion, as residents face increasingly long daily commutes to and from work. Have a look at the picture below taken on the Eastern Freeway last week.
With the city’s population predicted to reach more than seven million by 2050, now is the time to think hard about ways to prevent the traffic congestion that is seriously undermining our quality of life, not to mention our economic productivity.
Indeed, a chilling report published late last year by Infrastructure Australia predicted that unless we tackle this problem now, congestion will cost Australia $53 billion a year in lost productivity by 2031.
Lost productivity equals fewer jobs for our children. We must act.
One way that governments can help is to encourage jobs growth outside of capital city CBDs by facilitating the development of second and third central business districts.
That is where Box Hill comes in. This vibrant area is undergoing a serious property boom, with 20 buildings of more than 20 storeys on the drawing board. When I visited the area last Thursday with Monash mayor Stefanie Perri, I saw a skyline dotted with cranes.
Thousands of new residents who will live in the new buildings will drive demand among local businesses, adding to the 26,000 jobs that already exist in the precinct. But there’s a problem.
Current transport infrastructure is inadequate for the area’s existing needs, let alone for the huge increase in demand that is coming down the line.
Although Box Hill is connected to two railway lines, 22 bus routes and a tram route, those services are disconnected and hard to access.
The train station is in the basement of the main shopping centre, while the bus station is on the roof. People wanting to move from one to another have to follow a maze of escalators, when the facilities should be integrated.
A group called Building a Better Box Hill, including the Whitehorse City Council, Metro Trains Melbourne, the Deakin University and local business people, argues that a new transit centre will cement the community’s status as Melbourne’s second CBD.
It has a compelling case.
It’s clear that if all levels of government work together, we can prevent inadequate infrastructure from becoming the impediment that halts the growth under way at Box Hill.
A federal government interested in cities should get behind the local community and support plans to further advance planning for a new transit centre.
Governments need to work together with communities to tackle the growing pains of urban Australia. We can’t allow traffic congestion to be a handbrake on growth and new jobs.
Congestion will worsen in coming years because of changes in patterns of employment growth.
In the 20th century, jobs growth was strong in Australian suburbs in industries like manufacturing. But as manufacturing declines, jobs growth is shifting to areas in and around our CBDs in service sectors like banking, insurance, and information technology.
While those new jobs are welcome, the average-income earners who are filling them cannot afford inner-city housing prices. They live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs, where housing is affordable but jobs are scarce.
They are spending increasing amounts of time commuting to the city, raising their stress levels and leaving them with less time for their families. That’s bad for economic productivity. It’s worse for our national quality of life.
We need better roads and public transport, better city planning, and greater housing densities along established public transport corridors.
Just as importantly, we need to ignite jobs growth in the suburbs — closer to where average Australians live. One way to do that is the development of second and third CBDs.
Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities, and Tourism.
This article was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 11 April 2016.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.