Canberrans are having their love affair with cars challenged
As the home of Australia’s biggest rev-head festival, Summernats, Canberra has a fairly strong attachment to the car.
- Transport strategy suggests upping parking fees, reducing speed limits
- Goal to make driving a less attractive choice
- Government says plan about providing more options
More than half of all households have two or more cars registered to their address, making Canberrans among the heaviest car users in the country.
Only Western Australia and Queensland are ahead of the ACT on that measure.
Ask car enthusiasts and they will tell you the city’s wide streets and generally light traffic make it perfect for cruising — at least compared to cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
But the ACT Government wants to challenge the car’s dominance in the capital, expressing a desire to get people out of private vehicles, and onto “more sustainable transport modes” like walking, cycling, buses and light rail.
But is Canberra ready to move on from the car?
Pushing people out from behind the wheel
The ACT Government last month released its draft transport strategy, out for public consultation until early next month.
The Government strategy ranks private vehicles as the least in need of public assistance. (Supplied: ACT Government)
It notes Canberra’s high rates of car ownership, with an average of 1.8 cars per household.
But the Government argues that as the city grows, the number of cars does not have to grow with it.
“Our growing and diversifying population does not have to mean more cars on roads and more congestion,” it states.
And it lists which forms of transport should be the priorities for future investment, with pedestrians and cycling near the top, and private cars at the bottom.
It even suggests measures to disincentivise travelling by private car, like lifting parking fees and reducing speed limits in suburban areas to make roads more friendly for bikes and pedestrians.
Transport Minister Meghan Fitzharris said the strategy would aim to give people options.
“When Canberrans go to move around our city, whether that’s for work or for recreation or socialising, they’ve got more choice,” she said.
How did we get here?
Steve Gregorsky was born and bred in Canberra, and has lived in the city for most of his life.
He is also a long-time member and official of the Canberra Torana Club, celebrating the Holden cars sold in Australia from 1967 to 1980, and is a dedicated Summernats attendee.
Steve Gregorsky says when it comes to traversing Canberra, nothing beats his Holden. (ABC News: Tom Lowrey)
“The set-out of the town is just perfect for cruising, and there’s a huge car culture here,” he said.
“Whether you’ve got a vintage car, a muscle car, or sort of a modern-day car that you’re passionate about, there’s no better feeling than getting around.”
He says for car nuts like him, measures to try and get people out of their cars are not likely to work.
“I don’t think many of my peers would have any issues at all with paying a little extra in rego or parking fees, if they can be assured of good roads without potholes, like other capital cities have,” he said.
“And also some safe parking.”
And Mr Gregorsky has his doubts about the willingness of many people to try and start catching the bus.
“There’s been much said about the Canberra public transport system, and you can’t beat a car,” he said.
How much would you pay to stay on the road?
The strategy also points out an emerging funding problem that could see drivers hit with new charges for using roads in years to come.
Minister Meegan Fitzharris says the plan is about providing Canberrans with more options. (ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)
Canberra’s roads are primarily funded by the fuel excise and registrations.
While registrations are still going up, the fuel excise is expected to continue to fall as more electric vehicles start taking to the roads.
And if the ambition to reduce car ownership is achieved, revenue from registrations could fall too.
The strategy suggests the ACT Government will monitor the implementation of road use pricing systems around the world — where drivers are charged based on how much they are driving.
It also points out the inequity of the current fuel excise system, which places more cost burden on people who drive older, less fuel-efficient cars and live a long way from city centres.
But it has not got any firm solutions to the problem just yet.