Cars, which delivered personal freedoms in the late 1950s, are now choking Hobart. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
For an outsider’s view of getting around Hobart on public transport, the Lonely Planet tourist guide does not mince words.
- In Hobart, public transport use accounts for just 3.5 per cent of total motorised transport
- While bus patronage is growing, traffic congestion is still an issue for the bus network
- Light rail and possible bypass options are still in the feasibility study stage
“If you’re relying on public transport, don’t bank on a whole lot of options at night or on weekends,” it says.
“Taxis can be impossible to find at busy times, Hobartians aren’t used to sharing cabs; don’t try and muscle in on someone else’s ride.”
So far, not so good. How about Trip Advisor?
“Everyone drives everywhere. The public transport services are poor.”
Harsh, but probably fair.
Any other opinions on Hobart’s public transport system? How about the Allianz Tasmania guides?
“Getting around Hobart using public transport is easy on weekdays but at night and on weekends, it can be a bit challenging with dramatically reduced services at those times.”
Hobart did have trams and trolley busses, but they went a long time ago. (Supplied: Wikimedia)
It seems most locals agree with the general view that public transport in Hobart is just too hard, too infrequent or non-existent.
As a result, data shows within the Hobart urban area, public transport use accounts for only 3.5 per cent of the total motorised transport.
The latest attempt to steer a way forward — the Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry into Greater Hobart Traffic Congestion — is considering what to do about public transport in the city and how to solve the peak-hour problems.
Excellent, on paper
Across most metrics that measure traffic congestion, Hobart rates well, as Tasmania’s current Minister for Transport Michael Ferguson pointed out in his submission to the inquiry, describing it as “one of the best performing cities” and a place where “constraints only occur within peak demand” between 7:00am to 9:00am and 3:00pm to 6:00pm on weekdays.
But despite all of the flattering data, Hobart’s CBD during critical times is often one incident away from the system being in paralysis.
Submissions to the inquiry blame a cocktail of “topography”, “poor planning”, “government neglect”, “short-sightedness”, bickering between levels of government, the inherent limitation of fixed-route public transport working to a inconvenient timetable, “insufficient cycling infrastructure”, the city’s “car dependency”, demographic shifts and the changing nature of society, including women entering the workforce, as some of the ingredients of Hobart’s bitter brew.
Some say one-way arterials such as Macquarie Street should be altered. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
Unsurprisingly, bus proponents want more bus lanes and priority measures, cycling advocates more space for bike lanes, light rail enthusiasts want a system introduced and car drivers want clearways and less congestion.
Even the Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania recommend measures to “make public and active transport [walking, riding] more attractive”, a sentiment echoed by many — with a notable and vocal exception.
Build it and they’ll come (or maybe, they won’t)
The problem, as urban geographer and transport economist Robert Cotgrove sees it, is that there is a big difference between people living the kind of lives town planners and advocacy groups want them to and the lives they choose under free will.
Tasmania population special report
Mr Cotgrove is convinced the billions of dollars spent on promoting public transport and the concerted efforts to get people out of cars has failed and will continue to do so for the simple fact people like them — and the freedom they provide — too much.
“From the 60s onwards, the planning profession has been arguing it that we have to get people out of cars and back on to public transport, that we have to redesign our cities, to recreate the old ideas,” Mr Cotgrove told the ABC.
The post-World War II liberating power of affordable “private automobility” for families was a societal game changer, forever, he said.
“The growth of individual car ownership is an intrinsic feature of this fundamental transition. The car enables busy mums and dads to combine work commitments with home and family responsibilities,” Mr Cotgrove said.
Cars were here to stay, Don Challen — a member of the Evers Network — agreed.
“People want to combine activities like getting to and from work with shopping, taking children to child care, to school and to after-school activities. This is only possible with a car,” he said.
“This lifestyle choice is not a passing trend; it is deeply entrenched and here to stay. That means cars are here to stay, too. The alternatives to the car do not meet people’s lifestyle choices and are impractical for most.”
Traffic inbound from Hobart’s eastern suburbs is largely reliant on the Tasman Bridge. (ABC News: Brian Tegg)
The Evers Network, a group of “highly experienced specialists in government, policy development, strategy and corporate administration who live in Tasmania and have worked here at the highest level”, according to its website, have also made a lengthy submission to the Select Committee inquiry.
Even if there is a public transport option service in place, as Mayor of Kingborough Dean Winter pointed out at a committee hearing this month, “if people lose confidence in public transport services, they are more likely to get back in the car”.
“My personal experience with buses in our area was that even if 87 per cent of the time they are on time, that is actually not enough for a commuter who needs to get into work and do business.”
Where are the ferries at?
While many submissions have said a ferry service on Hobart’s river would help alleviate traffic on the Tasman Bridge, sceptics have disagreed.
In his own submission, Mr Cotgrove torpedoed ferries as “unlikely to have any significant impact in reducing car use” and likely to only take passengers away from buses.
“Given the expensive infrastructure that is required to establish and operate a ferry system (jetties and vessels), it is very hard to see ferries being cost-effective,” the Evers Network submission to the select committee argued.
“Patronage would undoubtedly cannibalise the existing bus system. Given the open water involved, the wind and the swells, it would not take too many rough days for patrons to decide ferries are a poor option and to abandon them.”
The group pointed to the period after the Tasman bridge collapsed in 1975 and said “once the road transport options returned, the ferries quickly disappeared … against this evidence, it is hard to see a ferry system being economic”.
A number of measures, including dedicated lanes and head starts at intersections, have been considered for busses. (ABC News)
Can buses save Hobart?
Metro Tasmania, the main operator of Hobart’s public bus network, told the inquiry despite “double digit” percentage growth in passenger patronage over several years, they had not increased their fleet size.
Frequency and reliability of service is seen as key to bus route success. (Supplied: Migrant Resource Centre)
Since 2016, Metro has added “more than 10 per cent growth year on year in terms of our full-fare paying adults”, chief executive Megan Morse told the committee last month, which she credited in part due to providing “better frequencies, so people have more options in terms of how they plan their day, and how they plan the activities they want to undertake across the day”.
“We also made many bus services more direct, to reduce travel time where we could,” she said.
“Obviously, nobody wants to be on a bus longer than the equivalent car journey might have taken, notwithstanding that it is a communal experience.”
Ms Morse said being able to find a saving of seconds was “very significant to us over the course of the day”, and that “saving a minute or two here and there adds up dramatically because of the volume of movements we manage”.
As Timothy Gardner, chair of Metro, told the committee in November, “the challenge we have at the moment is that our busses just sit in traffic with all the other vehicles … it is very hard”.
Commuters on the Southern Outlet face the morning crawl into Hobart, bottlenecking at Davey Street. (ABC News)
Mr Ferguson said the Government was working on a number of “bus priority measures” to make the network more attractive as part of its plan to bust congestion in Hobart, including developing more clearways, bus lanes and queue jump lanes to make “catching the bus more attractive”.
The Government knows “there is more to do”, Mr Ferguson said, adding it would “continue to do its share of the heavy lifting to reduce Hobart traffic congestion.”
What chances for bicycles and light rail?
Hobart is “not a great cycling city”, the submission from the Tasmanian bicycle council said, with a one-way street system, narrow and congested traffic lanes and lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure which “does not make cycling an attractive or viable transport choice for the majority of people visiting the city for work and leisure”.
Bicycle riding, they argued, had the “potential to transform the city of Hobart’s transport task by providing for short-and-medium-distance trips”, and called for a “strong network of safe paths and streets where people regardless of age or ability can comfortably cycle”.
As for light rail, Mr Ferguson announced last month the State Government would conduct a study into the feasibility of a system along the old and disused rail corridor connecting Hobart to Brighton.
An artist’s impression of what a new Bridgewater Bridge might look like, without a rail option. (Suppled: Infrastructure Tasmania)
However, as Glenorchy Mayor Kristie Johnson pointed out during her appearance before a November hearing of the select committee, the current plan doesn’t allow for rail crossing to go across the new Bridgewater Bridge to get to Brighton.
The Tasmanian Government announced on Saturday it had “awarded the tender to deliver detailed design options for a number of key projects” under the Hobart City Deal to planning consultants WSP Australia Pty Ltd.
We need to talk about cars again, don’t we?
As far back as the late 1950s, someone in Tasmania took enough notice of the growing popularity of cars in the United States to realise Hobart should plan ahead, as far out as 1985 at the least.
And so, the Hobart Area Transportation Study, was conceived — with input from an American consulting firm.
From that vision would form much of Hobart’s system in place today, with one major component never implemented — the critical link to keep traffic flowing between north and south.
Hobart people might consider themselves fortunate that one of the measures proposed never came to pass — an elevated multi-carriageway through the metropolitan area in the style of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, a double-decker concrete flyover which was built in the 1950s only to be demolished after an earthquake in 1989, to the relief of many locals who had campaigned for its removal for years.
The elevated Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco — once seen as a model for Hobart’s traffic solution. (Flickr: Todd Lappin)
“Hobart baulked because it was going to be too expensive,” Mr Cotgrove said. “The problem hasn’t gone away … the result is there’s still that missing link.”
He, along with those in the Evers Group, have backed a plan from retired civil engineer Tony Denne — the Hobart West Bypass.
In his submission to the inquiry, Mr Denne said his solution “would connect the three arterial roads, the Southern Outlet, the Brooker and Tasman Highways with an 80-kilometre-per-hour nonstop road and tunnel system, 4.4 kilometres long and also allow connection with traffic from the adjacent suburbs” — with a total cost estimated, as of September 2019, at $1.45 billion — with roadworks estimated at an average of $100,000 per metre.
Don Challen, whose Evers Group backs the Hobart West Bypass idea, told the inquiry it “could be financed through a combination of state and government capital contributions in the hundreds of millions of dollars, nothing like the billion-plus, together with private investors and a toll”.
Would Hobart drivers cop a toll, a committee member asked Mr Challen.
“They will. Everybody everywhere else does. They will get used to it in five minutes. It will be a few dollars each trip,” he answered.
The State Government has commissioned a feasibility study into the proposal to analyse the potential costs, benefits and impacts of a bypass, Mr Ferguson said.
An example of a twin highway tunnel, from Tony Denne’s Hobart West Bypass submission. (Supplied: Tony Denne)