Opinion by ANDREW CHUTER
The NRMA has a responsibility to inform its members about issues affecting them, so one could reasonably expect that it will have done independent research to ascertain whether initiatives like tollroads are a good thing from the motorist’s point of view.
But have they?
The NRMA has consistently behaved like an excited puppy in relation to WestConnex (WCX), preferring to parrot the press releases from INSW and the government, rather than doing its own research.
As opposed to the fawning articles in the corporate media, the expert commentary on WCX has been almost universally damning since the State Infrastructure Strategy (SIS) was announced on 2 Oct 2012. This introduced the word WestConnex to the world and pushing aside a much better NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan (final draft published Sept 2012) in favour of Transurban’s wet dream, and Sydney’s nightmare.
So why did the NRMA not pass on any of this highly informed opinion to its members? Why has the NRMA continually extolled virtues of the tollway that everyone in the organisation would know (or at least suspect) from their own lived experience, to be imaginary?
To be fair to the NRMA, they did whinge a bit about the cost of the tolls. But even that should have initiated an investigation into WCX, if only on a value for money basis. The least we should expect from the NRMA is a slowly evolving realisation that WCX is a really bad deal for their members, but their tail wagging approach has not wavered in nearly a decade, in spite of the withering expert commentary.
Ron Christie was the CEO of RTA as well as being the co-ordinator general of Sydney Rail at different times in the 1990’s and 2000’s. He oversaw the widening of the M4 from 4 lanes to 6, and watched as it immediately became clogged with traffic.
He was responsible for the public transport arrangements during Sydney’s Olympic Games. He chaired the Herald’s Independent Transport Inquiry in 2009-10 and is arguably the most authoritative and best placed expert on Sydney’s transport systems and history alive today.
So Christie’s Comments on the Infrastructure NSW Report article, published 2 weeks after WCX was first announced (Greiner’s State Infrastructure Strategy was announced on 2 Oct 2012) on 14 Oct 2012, should have been essential reading for the good burghers at the NRMA.
Sections 1-6, not a long read but a damning one, deal with the defects of WCX and motorways in general. The rest deals with rail.
Christie also made a submission to the recent 2018 WCX Inquiry (#408) that is also recommended reading, and is a masterpiece of conciseness.
Jacob Saulwick’ s response to the Comments, published the following day (Greiner’s Traffic Plan a Real Choker, Says Expert, SMH, 15.10.12) should have caused them to extract the collective digit.
Other transport and planning experts who weighed in on WCX (many quoted in Ron’s submission) include:
* Chris Standen, transport analyst (SMH 2015).
* John Stone, Urban Planning, Melbourne University (interview, 2013) “No city in the world with a population of 5 million or more can hope to solve its transport problems with the private car.”
Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner for Vancouver: “Vancouver’s decision not to build freeways was pivotal in its suburban development.”
* Ross Gittins, economist, (SMH, 2014) “I’m not convinced that the Liberals’ bias- Federal and state- towards expressways and against public transport is the way to get the greatest productivity gain.”
* Ken Dobinson, former director of the RTA (SMH 2015) “You should spend money on roads, no question about that, but spend it on the right things for the right reasons – that’s common sense to me.”
* Michiel Bliemer, Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies, Sydney University Business School. “The WCX project in Sydney adds significant extra road infrastructure to the city and therefore makes travelling by car more attractive. This encourages travellers to take the car and as such increases the total number of cars on the entire road network.”
According to Bliemer, this extra traffic will worsen congestion throughout the city.
It’s to be hoped that the upcoming 2019 elections for the NRMA board of directors – nominations closed yesterday – will see candidates standing who are able to see WCX for the disaster that it is and act in the best interest of motorists.
However the rules imposed by the NRMA for candidates are extraordinarily restrictive and include such gems as; “In their candidate’s statement, each candidate must not refer (directly or indirectly) to their future intentions, policies or objectives in relation to the business and affairs of the NRMA.”
It appears that the NRMA don’t want their members to consider candidates concerned about the NRMA’s track record in relation to WCX, or the yet to be approved Western Harbour Tunnel, F6 and the Northern Beaches Link…