Opinion Pieces: What if money did not matter?

07 / 04 / 2011

Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.
June 2010
I have just returned from Abu Dhabi (AD) as part of a series of meetings with the AD Department of Transport, to develop graduate education training back to Australia for the new generation of planning and policy nationals. What is amazing is the amount of investment in infrastructure, all to be completed by 2030 under the Master Plan, which will involve buses, LRT, heavy rail and metro systems. The Abu Dhabi planners have set themselves the challenge to move the 97 percent modal split in favour of the car to 40 percent in 2030, a challenge I believe will be impossible to achieve. The only bus I saw was a tour bus (see photo) apart from mini vans moving the thousands of ex pat workers shipped in to assist the building frenzy (including knocking down and rebuilding buildings when they reach 10 years – easier than retrofit!). The SUV is still supreme, with no taxes and fuel at 45 cents per litre.
I gave a lecture on sustainable transport and value for money – in an environment in which money is no object and everything is owned by the Royal family (ies). The mere mention of the need for efficient pricing is such an alien notion when money flows as fast as oil comes up from below the ground. Abu Dhabi has the largest carbon footprint per capita anywhere in the world, and the response in part has been to develop Masdaq City – a zero carbon new city about 26 square kilometers in which cars are banned and the main transport mode is personal rapid transit (PRT), with car parks around the periphery (see the circular car parks in the picture).
What can we learn from the Abu Dhabi approach? The most interesting lesson is to build excess capacity well out beyond the needs of the planning period which we westerners tend to define as less that 20 years and hence get exacerbated when we fail to allow for growth opportunities. However a warning has to be made – Abu Dhabi really believes in the power of planning and does not recognize that the market will ultimately dictate the outcome – so whether they can get people out of their SUV’s is a big question – providing air conditioned bus stops has been mooted as a solution, but one wonders.
Food for thought
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