News & Media Opinion Pieces Public Transport, Health and Climate Change—A DEA initiative

Public Transport, Health and Climate Change—A DEA initiative

Public Transport, Health and Climate Change—A DEA initiative

Doctors for the Environment Australia is involved in a national initiative to promote public transport. We have written to all Members, Senators and Ministers in federal parliament seeking their recognition that public transport is a climate change and a health issue. Greenhouse gases from transport are expected to grow (according to the Federal Government’s own Bureau of Transport and Resource Economics) by 68% between 2000 and 2020. This means it is the area of greenhouse emissions least under control in Australia.

We point out that in Australia the largest contributor to transport greenhouse emissions is the private car in Australian cities and government can help ease this growth with better public transport. At the same time the use of the private car carries significant responsibility for the epidemic of obesity and other life style diseases, and its pollutants increase the burden of heart and respiratory disease in the 70 per cent of the Australian public who live in urban communities.

The letter to all parliamentarians coincides with the Policy document “A Public Transport and Green City Manifesto for the Federal Election” ,now on the DEA web site under Policy. The document is written by by Gary Glazebrook and Peter Newman, member of the Scientific Advisory Committee DEA. A link to the manifesto is given in the letter to parliamentarians.

Our letter to parliamentarians coincides with the launch of “Moving Australians Sustainably . Transport Policy in the National Interest published by the Public Transport Users Association. There is an excellent health section that relates private transport to a significant burden of disease. DEA has made a contribution to this section. This is an excellent document and we recommend you read it.

Our letter to parliamentarians and the manifesto point out that all cities have experienced big growth in public transport use in the last few years – e.g. 20% on Melbourne’s trains, 18% on Brisbane’s buses, 12% in Perth. This appears to be due to rising petrol prices and road congestion. Sydney’s rail and bus systems are now overcrowded, as are those in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

In the US and Europe (e.g. Germany) the Federal Governments help fund urban public transport. In the US, various programs have funded a share of capital works for urban public transport since the early 1990’s, but in Australia, the Federal Government has consistently refused to do so, although it has funded urban motorways (e.g. M7 in Melbourne, Eastern Arterial in Melbourne, most recently the promise of $2.3 billion for the Ipswich bypass). This is not even-handed, and will not help our cities cope with global warming and peak oil challenges. For that we need to become less car-dependent, not more car-dependent. Federal funding for the expansion of public transport will provide huge savings in greenhouse emissions and health costs

 Almost 60 per cent of Australian adults are overweight or obese: as a result there is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and several related serious diseases. Currently diabetes is estimated to cost $6 billion annually to health budgets, and this is expected to double by the year 2020 (National Priorities for turning around the Diabetes Epidemic 2007-2008; Diabetes Australia). The unavailability of public transport is one of the causative factors by reducing exercise. Increases in cardio-respiratory illness and death are accepted as a consequence of motor vehicle pollution from ozone, sulfur dioxide and particulates. (DEA Energy Policy) This pollution is reduced by replacing private vehicle use with efficient public transport.

As we point out in our Manifesto major new rail lines and bus ways take years to plan and up to a decade to deliver in some cases. But in fact our cities are already doing that and have completed many major plans – but they do not have the funding for all of them. All cities could significantly increase the capacity and quality of their public transport infrastructure over the next few years and into the future if given funding to support their plans. These measures will have impact in the near term and this is essential in terms of greenhouse reduction strategy at a time when we are moving towards tipping points in climate change. The problems we address must not be allowed to founder in the division of federal state responsibilities and the costs are small compared to any of the health costs that we are incurring by neglecting this problem.

Our detailed plans in the Manifesto, indicate that the federal government can have a significant impact from a modest financial outlay. Proposals include funding all urban rail systems to 100% green power, funding expansion of existing rail and bus fleets and ensuring that no Federal funds are allocated in the transport sector unless they can demonstrate that they will save greenhouse gases and have been part of a community-based planning system that enable all transport options to be considered.