Inner West Independent

Parramatta Rd: Boulevard of broken budgets

Parramatta Road is the site of the proposed ‘track-less’ light rail. Credit: Michael Lu


The Inner West Council has offered a way to transform public transport on Parramatta Road with the proposed introduction of Guided Electric Transit System (GETS) technology.

The Inner West Council, supported by Canada Bay, Burwood and Strathfield Councils, commissioned independent consultants Bodhi Alliance and EDAB Consulting to prepare a Parramatta Road Public Transport Opportunities Study.

The consultants endorsed GETS as the best option for public transport on Parramatta Road in their report.

Richard Pearson, the Inner West Council Administrator, said: “Track-free trams would free up the kerbside lanes from loud diesel belching buses, instantly making the footpath a much more pleasant place to be.”

The trams would run in the centre of the road instead of in the kerbside lanes and use batteries instead of power cables, and run on the existing road surface.

Cameras keep the tram in its designated lane, but the driver can still take control of the vehicle to steer around obstacles.

This new tram proposal is still some distance from a full business case.

After receiving the report from Bodhi Alliance and EDAB Consulting, Inner West Council has now committed $80,000 towards what it calls a full feasibility study of GETS for Parramatta Road.

Mr Pearson wants the State Government to match this figure.

“With State Government backing, this cutting-edge public transport project could be delivered within five years – so their joint commitment is vital,” he said.

If it all sounds too good to be true, it’s because Sydney has an unfortunate history with transport projects. In 2016, the CBD and South East Light Rail Project had a cost blow out of $517 million.

“There have been more than a dozen plans to transform Parramatta Road over the years. They have all failed due the lack of commitment to a real public transport solution,” Mr Pearson said, but added it would be different this time.

“The [GETS vehicles] are cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly than buses, and can move twice the number of people. And we don’t need to dig up Parramatta road to install them,” he said.

The GETS trams require platforms for passengers to get on and off, which would be placed in the middle of what is currently a conventional multi lane road. This means the proposal is not completely devoid of roadworks.

The Inner West Council estimates that track free trams – running between Strathfield and the CBD – could be delivered for $200 million.

A spokesperson for the council said this figure was derived from the study prepared by Bodhi Alliance and EDAB Consulting. The study says all the costings it provides compare GETS to light rail, and demonstrate that GETS is better value.

However, the report states that a more accurate estimate requires more detailed engineering design and assessment outside the scope of the study.

According to the Inner West Council, the current State Government plan for Parramatta Road is to use ‘Rapid Bus Transit’. Essentially, this means conventional buses running on the existing bus lanes.

Transport for NSW responded positively to the proposal, without publicly committing any funds at this stage.

“Transport for NSW welcomes Inner West Council’s proactivity in considering creative solutions to improving public transport for the Inner West and we look forward to reviewing the detail,” said a spokesperson. “Transport for NSW is still investigating public transport options to be implemented following the opening of WestConnex to support urban renewal and revitalisation of Parramatta Road.”

Greens NSW MP and Transport Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, said more of the same style buses is not enough.

“Buses are just a stop gap measure for Parramatta road … What we really need is an integrated Light Rail and active transport network that works not just in the short term, but long term.” She said.

The City of Sydney Council greeted the track free tram proposal with cautious optimism.

A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor of City of Sydney, Clover Moore, said: “We welcome any investigation into improved public transport options for the city and look forward to hearing the NSW Government’s response to the proposal.”

Spokesperson for the WestCONnex Action Group, Pauline Lockie, doubts a GETS system will be enough to untangle the traffic snarls that she says WestConnex will cause.

“While we welcome the focus on public transport, it’s hard to see how these ‘track-free trams’ would work with WestConnex,” she said.

“Even the government’s figures show WestConnex will worsen traffic on much of Parramatta Road as drivers rat run to avoid hefty tolls. These traffic increases are going to make it even more difficult, if not impossible, to retrofit public transport solutions into or revitalise Parramatta Road.”

Mr Pearson said The Inner West Council wants the NSW Government to get involved now with the trackless technology, “We need to act in partnership with the State Government to conduct this urgently needed feasibility study … I encourage them to get on board with inner west councils, who are already embracing the projected benefits of the project.” He said.

The NSW Government Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance was invited to comment but had not done so by the time of publication.

According to the Inner West Council, the GETS system, also known as ‘track-free trams’, could be operational within five years.