The Gold Coast light rail project shows that new transport links are worth it

A Gold Coast tram. Image: Getty.

Gold Coast’s light rail scheme has attracted great interest since the streets of Surfers Paradise were torn up and stations and track were built. Was it worth spending A$1.5bn on 13km of light rail and more than A$40m a year in subsidies? Are we right to be spending another A$420m on an extension to Helensvale in time for the Commonwealth Games? Should we be taking it all the way down to Gold Coast Airport?

Another question is whether gains in property values served by the project could be “captured” to fund such infrastructure. Previous studies of property values in areas serviced by the light rail showed only modest gains after it opened. Our research cast a wider net back to when we first started planning the system in 1996 through to the latest data we could get in 2016.

The results were intriguing. We found that prices in the catchment areas started to increase in the earliest planning phases. The effects of the light rail were to push up property values within 800 metres of the stations by more than 30 per cent in total from 1996 to 2016.

This is well above most previous estimates of a light rail system’s effects. This is mainly because we looked earlier for the property value gains and used a carefully designed control to make the comparison.

Impact after opening seemed modest

These findings cast a different light on the apparently modest impact of the light rail after it opened.

When the first stage from Broadbeach to our university at Parkwood opened it was well received. But the behaviour change we all hoped for was rather modest at first: after opening in 2014, patronage did not surge compared to bus ridership on the route in earlier years.

New passengers got on board, but it was an uphill climb for the new system. Fare increases of almost 50 per cent from 2010 to 2014 pushed passengers off public transport across southeast Queensland, especially on rail. Not all passengers enjoyed improved service for their particular journeys, either. Those who used to travel through the corridor in a bus now had to break their journey at the light rail terminus and transfer, adding travel time and annoyance.

In the second year of operation, however, patronage jumped 16 per cent and our contacts suggest third-year patronage is tracking well. Subsidies per passenger are falling. The decision to add the connection to Helensvale looks a sound one.

But, seemingly, other changes everyone expected weren’t there. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics analysed property values in the corridor from 2000 to 2013 using a coarse geography and didn’t find much evidence of any uplift. This gave many cause for concern.

Reassuringly, Cameron Murray used valuation data for a similar period using a different geographical scale and found a 10 per cent increase for properties within 400 metres of the new stations. But there was still uncertainty.

Our new research backs up and expands on Murray’s findings, suggesting there was substantial positive impact.

The Gold Coast light rail under construction at Surfers Paradise in 2013. Image: author provided.

What did our research look at?

Our research team in the Funding on the Line Australian Research Council Linkage Project took a different approach. In a peer-reviewed paper, which will shortly be presented at the World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research, led by Barbara Yen, we used sales data for residential properties along the corridor. Our study compared areas within 800 metres of the stations with a control area containing locations a little further away but still in the same vicinity.

We used a longitudinal methodology to see when the value uplift occurred from back in 1996, when planning of the system first started, through to the latest 2016 data. Property prices in the catchment areas started to increase very early in the planning phase. The property value uplift was highest in the locations between 100 and 400 metres from the stations.

Values went up 11.9 per cent in these locations compared to our control areas between 1996 and the feasibility study’s announcement in 2002. They increased a further 26.3 per cent from 2002 to 2006 over the control areas when the feasibility study was completed. Prices rose only 2.3 per cent from 2006 to 2011 when the formal funding commitment was made and construction began, and then by another 5.4 per cent after the line opened to the end of the study period in 2016.

Timeline of the planning and development of Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 1. Image: author provided.

The areas less than 100 metres from the stations, and between 400 and 800 metres also recorded strong increases compared to the control areas, though not quite as much.

This is to be expected. Sites closest to the stations received some nuisance from the light rail and road corridor; sites further away obtain fewer advantages in travel time savings for passengers.


What are the funding implications?

The property value gains attributable to the project from 1996 to 2016 of more than 30 per cent are very significant. Yet it’s pretty much only the landowners who benefit.

The City of Gold Coast recoups some of its A$120m investment in the light rail through its rates and its public transport levy on urban residents. The Queensland government may end up getting a little slice via stamp duty as properties are sold. The few pieces of government-owned land likely rose in value.

But the state and federal governments generally have no other mechanisms to take a small sliver of the increased property value their investment generated to help pay for the light rail system or reinvest in public transport elsewhere. We’ve written about this previously and suggested ways we could change the system.

A recent federal parliamentary inquiry and moves to set up “value sharing” units in the Queensland and New South Wales governments suggest we are now getting serious about generating alternative funding for public transport. The ConversationOur study’s results only add more support to these initiatives. Get it right and we should be able to deliver more metros, busways and light rail to serve our growing population and its increasingly urban way of life.

Matthew Burke is associate professor in the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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