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.

 
 
 
 

What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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