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A well planned public transport network brings a city closer to itself.

It creates value for citizens by reducing the distance between neighbourhoods. Businesses gain access to more customers, people are brought closer to their friends and loved ones, and exposed to greater possibilities of work.

Traffic jams and sardine-can train carriages can be a thing of the past.

This vision of a modern, connected city where people are able to move about easily is not a far-fetched dream – it is a reality for many of our Asian neighbours, and throughout Europe. However, it’s not simply the shortage of rail and other transport that has set us back from achieving modern cities for Australia. Our policy toolbelt for funding the bold new projects we need to drag our cities into the twenty-first century is long overdue an upgrade.

Instead of looking to our global neighbours for policy and practice leadership, we shrug our shoulders and pine for easy answers. The “easy road” has involved public-private partnerships and programs based around runaway borrowing, regardless of long-term sustainability and workability.

The current infrastructure funding paradigm in Australia focus on a narrow list of ‘old-fashioned’ transport project benefits; decreased travel time for users and less congestion on the roads is about as far as the imagination stretches. We fall radically short of measuring the true depth of value created by a well-planned strategic transport project. The delivery of greater economic productivity and increases in land value are viewed as second-order externalities instead of core components or even primary purposes for transport projects.

A smarter and fairer approach to upgrading our transport networks would acknowledge, foster, and tap this value creation stream – mass transit has a proven ability to partly pay its own way. Leveraging the increase in wealth resulting from land value and productivity gains has been a reliable funding pathway for the twenty-first century’s most renowned transport systems.

Our project outlines and promotes five of the key funding mechanisms:

  1. Capturing value through the mainstream tax system; borrowing from future revenue increases that result from economic expansion delivered by major projects;
  2. Special fees or levies to capture land value increases delivered by transit system development, or by changes to development rights;
  3. Auction or sale of development rights for transit-associated property;
  4. An urban renewal authority working to direct value creation and capture through land use mechanisms in harmony with major transit projects;
  5. ‘Direct property’ activities as an income generator for transit agencies.

We don’t need to wait until 2050 to create transport systems that we need for our cities. We can build what we need within a tightly-managed 10-15 year horizon – if we work diligently and collaboratively across the urban planning, transport and policy spheres to deliver this necessary paradigm shift.

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