What Brisbane's ferries can teach us about funding public transport

The Brisbane suburb of Bulimba has benefited from the addition of a ferry terminal. Image: Matthew Burke.

Traditional funding sources are becoming inadequate to meet public transport demands in Australian cities, despite the broad economic and social benefits public transport brings, such as cost savings associated with reduced traffic congestion, productivity through improved job creation, competitiveness and livability.

In 2013 around two-thirds of Australia’s population resided in a capital city. By 2061, the Australian Bureau of Statistics forecasts this proportion will increase to 74 per cent. This population growth is creating pressure for public transport systems and infrastructure, and governments need to find alternative funding resources.

In Australia, governments face a funding shortfall, which is compounded by limited funding resources (low taxes) and competing priorities. Unfortunately, the federal government in Australia has in some cases ceased funding public transport projects.

The concept of “value capture” is being explored to help fill the hole left by the Commonwealth. Value capture is the appropriation of some land value gains that result from the installation of specific public infrastructure improvements in a limited benefit area, and sees part or all of these revenues used to fund the improvements.

Before introducing value capture financing to fund public transport, we need to know the value of uplift that occurs as a result of different public transport infrastructure. To answer this question, we have been exploring how Brisbane’s ferries have influenced property values in the city.

Since four CityCat ferry systems were introduced in 1996, this influential system has grown to 23 terminals, 19 CityCats and 9 mono-hulled ferries. But what effect have they had on land values?

Many ferry-oriented developments have been built to leverage off Brisbane’s CityCats and other ferries. Land developers have paid for part or all of the construction costs for the Regatta, Hamilton Northshore and Teneriffe terminals on the Brisbane river, to ensure ferries service their developments.

The challenge was to measure the effects for these ferry-oriented development areas, to see whether developers were justified in their decisions.

Brisbane’s CityCats have helped push up property prices. Dan Peled/AAP.

What are the property value effects?

We used property data for much of Brisbane to see what impact the ferry terminals have on property values, and found property prices tended to increase for properties located closer to the ferry terminals. If you get one kilometre closer to the ferry terminal that is expected to increase the property price an average 4 per cent, excluding other factors.

The positive effects on house prices brought about by the ferries were particularly notable at the Regatta, Bulimba and Hawthorne terminals, and to a lesser extent at Mowbray Park. This suggests the combination of suburbs with mature terminals and a decade of ferry-oriented development has positive impact on house prices or property values. There were less effects around the nearby Norman Park terminal because it is only serviced by more limited, lower-frequency cross-river services.

Unexpectedly our study found a fall in property values around the Guyatt Park terminal, but we think this may be explained by the Green Bridge opening from Fairfield to St Lucia, which broke the monopoly on student housing in St Lucia, and which was not included in our study. No property uplift effects were observed at Teneriffe and at Hamilton North Shore, where development is still immature. It is still too early to say what the impacts will be there.

The effects were more muted at locations such as West End where redevelopment opportunities have been scarce, partly due to planning controls, and at the QUT Gardens Point and University of Queensland terminals dominated by higher education land uses.

Many properties that benefited from ferry proximity were also high-rise apartments in the Brisbane central business district. Our research suggests that a one hundred metre decrease in the distance to the ferry stop would increase property values by between 4.9 per cent and 13.1 per cent in this location. This is a considerably stronger response than the 4 per cent average increase across the broader study area.

Ultimately it appears property developers were justified in seeking to secure ferry terminals to service their developments. Governments may also be justified in bringing in land value capture mechanisms to help pay for terminals, vessels or operating costs in appropriate locations.The Conversation

Barbara T.H. Yen is a research fellow on the urban research programme at Griffith University. She does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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


In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  

“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.