The nature and rationale of urban transport policy in Australia

Bray, David (2009). The nature and rationale of urban transport policy in Australia PhD Thesis, University of South Australia, University of South Australia.

Author Bray, David
Thesis Title The nature and rationale of urban transport policy in Australia
School, Centre or Institute University of South Australia
Institution University of South Australia
Publication date 2009
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Michael Taylor
Professor Derek Scrafton
Total pages 696
Language eng
Subjects 140217 Transport Economics
140213 Public Economics-Public Choice
090507 Transport Engineering
120506 Transport Planning
Abstract/Summary Background The research has examined two broad issues related to urban transport policy in Australia: • The evolution of urban transport policy as reflected in urban transport strategies published since around the 1960s to the present time. • The views and reasoning of politicians and public servants that appear to underpin current urban transport strategies, and the views of these two groups and the public regarding matters related to urban transport policy. These matters have been examined within the framework of theories that seek to explain: • Choices made by the community, giving particular attention to theories that examine the nature of reasoned choice and aberrations to such choice. • Choices made by government with regard to public policy, giving consideration to theories regarding public administration and public choice. Sources of data for the research Almost 50 transport strategies were published between 1948 and 2008 for the five largest capital cities in Australia (i.e. Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney). These were reviewed using a descriptive approach and key themes identified. In addition, three surveys were conducted in 2007 to gain understanding of views on current transport strategies and on more general transport issues and policy: • An extensive, self-completed survey of public servants working in policy and strategic planning divisions of almost all transport agencies of state and territory governments of Australia (described hereafter as policy professionals). 351 personnel in 18 agencies were canvassed with 94 surveys returned (a response rate of 27%). • A self-completed survey of politicians in all state and territory parliaments. 123 self-completed responses were received from the 595 elected members in these parliaments (a response rate of 21%). • A telephone interview survey of the public in Adelaide and Sydney (respectively a medium size city and a large city). Sample sizes of 252 respondents in Adelaide and 256 in Sydney give a 95% level of confidence that the survey results are within around ±6% of the view of the population in each city. The surveys contained complementary questions that allowed comparisons to be made between the views of the respondents. The surveys made extensive use of Likert scale responses, with data analysed using nonparametric forms of statistical testing. Findings regarding the evolution of transport policy in Australia Changes with regard to three dimensions of urban transport strategy have been identified: • Policy theme. Until the early 1970s, transport strategies were demand responsive, identifying investment programs that were directed to accommodating forecast demand. In retreating from the freeway proposals of these strategies during the 1970s, governments articulated a balanced approach to transport that placed greater weight on public transport. This was followed in the 1980s with an integrated perspective to transport policy that emphasised the link between land use and transport and between transport modes. From the early 1990s increasing prominence was given to a managed approach with stress on travel demand management. Sustainable transport has since become a central theme, focussed on environmental concerns. The last four themes have been cumulative, with current strategies drawing on the characters of balanced, integrated, managed and sustainable approaches to transport policy. • Policy mode. The initial transport strategies, the demand responsive phase, were in the form of master plans that set out specific project and program proposals. This gave way to policy incrementalism in the early 1970s as the negative reaction to freeway development plans and rising economic, energy and environmental uncertainty led governments to adopt a more responsive, short term approach to transport policy. The emergence of the managed approach to transport in the 1990s, including the setting of targets for the share of travel by car and public transport, reflected a more interventionist mode of policy that continues to the present time. In practice, the long term growth in public transport subsidies and increasing traffic congestion suggest a pragmatic approach by government that focussed on support for public transport and limited growth in road capacity. • Technical practice. Transport strategies were underpinned by professional inquiry until the early 1980s. The subsequent shift to aspirational planning in which desired outcomes are indicated and actions in pursuit of them described, with no evidence to indicate that the actions will enable the objectives to be achieved, disguises the extent of technical practice that may underpin current transport policy. Findings regarding public views and choices Personal choice may be modelled as being ordered (though this need not result in identical choices for all people in any given circumstance), that decision making may diverge from the concept of perfect processing of all possible data, and that choices can be modified by changing situational and psychological factors, amongst others. While choices may be based on biases and inadequate information and imperfect processing of available information, this does not preclude reasoned decision making. Such processes are explained by, amongst others, bounded rationality, prospect theory and the theory of planned behaviour. Reasoned choice is distinguished from rational choice, with the latter requiring a stricter form of decision making involving egoistic utility maximisation with solutions that are transitive and complete. Two variations to reasoned choice are evident. First, by definition, the theories do not explain unreasoned behaviour. Such non-thoughtful choice is not denied, though there is little formal evidence for its presence in urban transport. The second deviation is indicated by cognitive dissonance, which provides an explanation for the behaviour of people as they seek to reconcile inconsistencies between their views and behaviour. The results of the surveys of the public in Adelaide and Sydney show, inter alia, that: • The public severely underestimates the cost of providing public transport. An average of 56% of people in Adelaide and Sydney thought fare revenue was about the same as or more than the cost of providing public transport and a further 18% considered it to be only a bit less than the cost. The actual level of recovery of total public transport costs in Adelaide is estimated at 16% and is expected to be similar in other major capital cities. The misperception can be expected to colour the view of the public to the appropriateness of urban transport policy. • There are no general inconsistencies in the views and judgements of the public. Views on two matters may be dissonant, though other explanations are possible:  There is a positive correlation, albeit weak, between the views that government should build roads to cater for all road traffic, that more money should be spent on public transport and that people should be encouraged to use cars less and shift to public transport. However, this may be reasoned, for example a view that having done the latter two actions to support public transport, government should not then penalise motorists by providing insufficient road capacity.  The very large share of respondents supporting a policy of encouraging reduced car travel and making more use of public transport contrasted with a smaller share who indicated a potential willingness to do so themselves. Again, it is possible that no dissonance is involved, and that public support for increased use of public transport may be based on self-interest, i.e. expecting that others will transfer to public transport, thereby reducing traffic congestion for remaining road users. The seemingly conflicting views may also be affected by the misperception of public transport cost recovery, which could lead respondents to suppose that improved public transport would not be costly. It is also possible that the support is symbolic of other matters, such as a more general desire for less intrusive and polluting transport, rather than being literal. Findings regarding government behaviour Five key issues relating to the administrative and policy practices of government emerge from the research: • The first is the effectiveness of representative democracy in providing politicians with an understanding of community views and the means by which public servants gain an understanding of the public interest. The research presented in this thesis indicates that neither politicians nor policy professionals accurately gauge the views of the public with regard to a range of urban transport issues. Nevertheless, politicians reasonably strongly agreed with the community that the trend in rising car use is unappealing and unsustainable but appear to also correctly perceive that the community are individually less inclined to shift from car to public transport travel than they indicate they would like to see occur. Similarly, their preference for promotional policy instruments and general lack of enthusiasm for under-investment in roads and for pricing instruments are consistent with community views. • Policy professionals share the views of politicians more closely than those of the public. This may be taken to indicate that they follow the direction of the political leadership of government (and which thus accords with the primacy of representative democracy) but it also appears to be based on personal conviction. The similarity of views reduces the importance of the traditional dichotomy between the respective roles of politicians and public servants with regard to public policy. • The general preference of policy professionals for interventionist rather than market oriented policy instruments is consistent with public choice theory. Their support for increased government expenditure on public transport may be related more to a desire to influence policy than to gain power through higher budgets. • Public choice theory’s view of the undue influence of interest groups is not supported by the assessment of policy professionals, who judge interest groups to have limited influence on urban transport strategies in Australia. This may, however, reflect policy professionals considering the influence of interest groups through the lens of their own preferences and hence misjudging their sway. • The Weberian approach of responsible bureaucracy is weakened by prima facie evidence of some limitations in technical knowledge, limited research and an inclination to advocacy by policy professionals. This can be expected to influence the advice they provide to government. While not evidently addressed in public choice theory, the features contribute to government failure. Findings regarding urban transport strategy Key findings regarding strategies and, by implication, urban transport policy are: • There is little evidence for policy learning in the evolution of transport strategies. Current policy professionals do not participate to a great extent in activities that support policy learning. • The broadly uniform nature of urban transport policy in the major capital cities suggests that the adopted approaches have been continuously and seamlessly transferred between them. Given limited policy learning, the means for transmission of this policy diffusion are not clear. • The policy instruments used in current urban transport strategies does not appear to be as well founded on evidence as might be expected and seem unlikely to achieve the outcomes desired of them. The instruments do not readily fall within the categorisations evident in the general literature on public policy. Original features and contributions of the research The major original features of the research are: • Consolidating information on past urban transport strategies in Australia and interpreting their features. • Identifying and comparing the views of policy professionals and politicians in Australia and of the public in Adelaide and Sydney regarding urban transport strategy, policy and allied issues. • Taking a macro view of urban transport policy that has drawn on theories related to personal behaviour and public policy and administration, which in turn draw on the disciplines of psychology, politics and economics. The major contributions of the research include: • Describing the motivation and understanding of public servants who contribute to the development of transport strategies for Australian cities and who more generally provide advice to governments on urban transport issues. • Establishing and linking the views of the major participants (i.e. politicians, public servants, interest groups and the community) in urban transport policy. • Through this analysis, identifying the potential for success of Australian urban transport strategies and more generally adding Australian experience to the limited body of knowledge on views that underpin urban transport policy.
Keyword transport policy
public policy

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Non-UQ Theses
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Created: Thu, 12 Mar 2015, 18:47:57 EST by David Bray on behalf of School of Civil Engineering