The Business Case for Funding Cycling in Western Australia

RAC Business Case for Investment in Cycling in WA

The RACWA, Western Australia’s peak motoring body and vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians) representative on the Road Safety Council, in December 2012 released a report, The Economic Cycle: A Business Case for investment in Cycling in Western Australia.

The RAC commissioned the independent assessment,which was completed by Ian Ker, Principal Consultant for CATALYST (Consulting in Applied Transport, Access and Land use Systems) to show what they believe is required to deliver a “high quality” cycling network in Western Australia.

In summary the assessment found “that the economic returns of investment in cycling infrastructure are higher than or equal to those achieved by many other urban transport investments.”

In light of the findings I thought it was important to first decide what the RAC and their advisors consider to be “high quality” and exactly what they mean by “Western Australia.” I do this because this whole report is about justifying expenditure on achieving a high quality cycling network in Western Australia.

Interestingly, Western Australia appears to actually mean Perth in light of the supporting comments on increased traffic volumes, congestion, Perth Bicycle Network Principal Shared Paths (PSP).

High quality was harder to define but the focus of the report seems to be on the need to build more infrastructure and facilities to “create a comprehensive and continuous network of safe and attractive routes to cycle and end-of-trip facilities.”

So Where are we at in Perth Cycling Wise?

The RACWA in its A Business Case for investment in Cycling in Western Australia finds that:

  • Investment in cycling over many years has lack priority;
  • Investment in cycling has failed to keep pace with Western Australia’s rapid population growth;
  • The original Perth Bicycle Network Plan from 1996, yep 16 years ago calls for funding support for three cycling states. None of those stages have been completed;
  • Cycling infrastructure funding has been opportunistic resulting in variable infrastructure from a design, construction and maintenance point of view;
  • Economic benefit from the money that has been spent has been limited due to the gaps in the network and the lack of planning and provision for newly developed suburbs since 1996.

Where to with Cycling Funding?

Economically the rate of return from cycling is about $1.43 per kilometre cycled. The RACWA reports also that cycling projects rate of return on investment (ROI) measured in terms of economic, social, health and environmental benefits is between 3.4 and 5.4 times the cost incurred.

Furthermore the report notes that financially, “the returns in dollar terms are nearly twice the costs incurred because people who cycle more will spend less on travel costs and gains in health and fitness will result in savings on health services.”

Either way spending on cycling infrastructure, that is good quality spending on cycling infrastructure is a significant benefit to the community; we just need it to be a vote winner as well.

So what do need to spend? The Economic Cycle: A Business Case for investment in Cycling in Western Australia argues that we need to spend at least $26.7 million per year over the next 10 years on cycling “to create [a] continuous convenient comprehensive cycle networks in Western Australia’s cities and towns. Of this total amount $45 million is required for cycle routes in regional Western Australia.”

But it does not stop there. The report goes on to argue for a further $27 million for related safety and encouragement programs (read education programs).

If the forecasted population growth eventuates then even this paltry $26.7 million per year over 10 years will not be enough and instead we will need to spend $38.8 million per year. Why don’t we get our act together now and start spending that $39 million per year and hopefully get on track to stay on track. $38 million is hardly a significant amount in the state’s transport budget. What we need is a Minister of Transport with vision to get this happening.

Prior to the March 2013 election (I am ignoring the election promises as there are signs they are not “core promises” already) there was a commitment to spend $12.5 million per year over the next two years; a staggering shortfall of $25.5 million per year!  We are failing before we even start!

Where should our $38.8 million be spent?

The Economic Cycle: A Business Case for investment in Cycling in Western Australia suggests that our focus should be on two of the six strategies outline in the Australian National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016. They are:

Cycling promotion: The promotion of cycling as a practical and safe mode of transport as well as being an enjoyable recreational activity. That really needs serious action on driver education … we are what makes cycling to be perceived as being unsafe;

Infrastructure and facilities: The creation of a comprehensive and continuous network of safe and attractive routes to cycle and end-of-trip facilities. Now that would be nice … Fremantle to the City anyone? Joondalup to the City? Midland to the City? The cycling statistics show that cyclists are using the existing infrastructure: imagine what would happen if we built half decent infrastructure?

The RACWA in their report point out that piecemeal approach adopted to date with cycling infrastructure has proven to be expensive and I would suggest less than ideal.

What they are suggesting instead is “a more strategic and accelerated investment program [which] would deliver significant savings by generating economies of scale and reducing tendering and start-up costs.”

I assume that they would want this strategic investment to be reflected in completing the existing principal shared paths, at least to start with.

For those interested the full report can be download from my Dropbox.

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