UK Gov't shelved plans for Office for Active Travel but the Oz Gov't wants to create cross-departmental Active Travel Council.

Australian Government launches landmark ‘active travel policy’

Back in April, BikeBiz revealed the planning for the Office of Active Travel, a new cross-departmental body charged with spending £1bn to get more Brits cycling, walking and using public transport. OAT was expected to be announced in June’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Instead, the Treasury revealed plans for a massive roads building programme.

However, an Active Travel body could be created in Australia. The current administration has released a white paper – Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport [PDF] – that talks about the creation of the Active Travel Council.

Australia, just like the UK, suffers from urban congestion and obesity, and has air quality issues. The country’s ‘car culture’ is strong. Licence plate surveys show that some commuters drive less than 400 metres to park at train stations each morning.

The Australian Government is seeking to work with states and territories to establish a new Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport council, reporting to the COAG Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure.

Stephen Hodge, of the Cycling Promotion Fund (Australia’s equivalent of the Bike Hub levy), said:

“This landmark statement recognises for the first time the health, transport, productivity and community benefits to be gained from making it easier and safer for all Australians to walk, ride and use public transport."

The new policy urges the provision of infrastructure and options for walking and cycling when planning all transport projects, and will use cost-benefit analysis of transport projects that recognises full costs and benefits when making funding decisions.

The white paper says: 

"Cars are ideal for a wide range of purposes, including travelling long distances, carrying multiple passengers or heavy loads, and when other modes of transport are not available. When everybody drives however, whether by choice or through lack of options, the roads in our cities become congested, with wider negative effects on productivity and liveability.

"Bicycle riding is ideal for regular trips up to 20 minutes (five kilometres). Longer rides are possible, but unlikely to appeal to the majority of the population. Many of the qualities that make a place attractive for walking also make it more attractive for riding. Riding is more common in areas with well-connected bicycle pathways that allow people to ride from door to door safely and easily, and where secure facilities for bicycle parking are available."

The white paper wants the creation of safe environments for pedestrians and cyclists: "Designing and building appropriate infrastructure to suit bicycle riders of all abilities is vital to encourage broader participation in the community…Access to well-connected, continuous and convenient routes is an important factor in any transportation system, whether for freight vehicles, cars, public transport, walking or riding."

Any Active Travel Council will be modelled on the Australian Bicycle Council. This already reports annually to the COAG Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure on the implementation of Australia’s National Cycling Strategy. 

The white paper says:

"Using the Australian Bicycle Council as a model, an active travel council could include a broader remit of walking and access to public transport (titled, for example, the Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport (WRAPT) council, or Active Travel council). It could include relevant government agencies, non- government organisations and peak industry groups from planning, environment and public health. Specific technical knowledge could be taken up by specialist technical committees. The Australian Government is interested in exploring this idea with states and territories."

However, while the white paper sounds good, its recommendations may not reach the statute books. This is because the white paper is from a dying Labor administration. It’s likely that the next administration will be led by the Coalition, with the Liberal party’s Tony Abbott as prime minister. Abbott is pro-cars, anti-public transport. He has already pledged to spend A$20bn on new roads and will cancel urban light rail projects

Abbott said: “The commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it is important that we stick to our knitting and the commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads."

In a Liberal party 21 point plan to "build a safe and efficient national transport system that supports sustainable growth and drives Australia’s productivity" there’s no mention of any sustainable transport measures whatsoever. Instead, there are pledges to build more motorways and construct major road bridges. The only support for two wheels is point 11, where an Abbott administration would work with the Australian Motorcycle Council to improve road safety.

"Motorcycles make up a growing and significant proportion of vehicles on Australia’s roads. They are also vulnerable – accounting for 4.5 percent of all Australian passenger vehicle registrations but accounting for 15 percent of all road death crashes."

The 21 point plan makes no mention of the vulnerability of cyclists or pedestrians. An Abbott administration would be unlikely to create an Active Travel Council.

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