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The defining issue for transport planning is peak oil, not traffic congestion

Stuart McCarthy, Online Opinion
Griffith University’s recent “Our Future, Your Say” forum on the future of the car was an important contribution to the ongoing debate about transport infrastructure in South East Queensland. Unfortunately, three of the four panelists, namely Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and RACQ CEO Ian Gillespie, demonstrated a limited understanding of world events that are creating a paradigm shift in the field of transport planning.

While the current debate revolves around efforts to address traffic congestion, the underlying assumption here is that car travel will continue to be inexpensive. The peak and subsequent decline in world oil production, or “peak oil”, is invalidating this assumption, hence affordability, not traffic congestion, will soon become the defining issue for transport planning in South East Queensland. The only question is whether or not our policy makers recognise this reality before it’s too late to avoid a public infrastructure crisis that will make the water grid look like child’s play.

…The major implication of peak oil for the average Queensland consumer is that fuel prices, and food prices, could realistically double or triple within the next several years. A petrol subsidy of eight cents a litre will make no difference to somebody who can’t afford to pay $3 a litre, or $180 to fill up the family car. Families in the mortgage belt of the outer suburbs, with little access to adequate public transport, will be particularly vulnerable (PDF 921KB).

While the electorate might today be clamouring for governments to build more tunnels and motorways to address the immediate problem of worsening traffic congestion, in the next few years when faced with the choice between filling up the car or putting food on the table they will begin asking politicians why there are insufficient buses and trains for them to get to work. The correlation between increasing oil prices and patronage on Brisbane’s already inadequate public transport for the last five years (see graph) is a very clear “market signal” if ever there was one.

…In order to address the challenges arising from peak oil, what the South East Queensland public urgently needs from its political and business leaders is visionary thinking about the transport needs of the future, not more populism, pork-barreling or protection of vested interests. The keys to this will be to recognise the harsh reality that there is no quick techno-fix that will preserve the motor car as the cheap, principal transport solution that it is today, to communicate this reality to the public, and to set about developing a public transport system that can get the majority of commuters to and from work each day. Above all, what will be required is honesty. The future of the South East Queensland economy depends on it.
(19 October 2007)
Stuart McCarthy is the Brisbane Coordinator for the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil. He has 20 years of experience in engineering, logistics, disaster relief, security, risk analysis and planning in Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Wine on the water as Tesco turns to barges to cut emissions

David Ward, The Guardian
Supermarket claims to be first big British retailer to transport freight by canal

A faint smell of what might have been Merlot hovered to starboard as the supertug Daisy Doardo pushed a barge bearing 600,000 litres of wine past Liverpool’s Pier Head and up the river Mersey yesterday. But not the smallest sip of a decent vintage passed the lips of skipper Graham Calderbank and his crew as they steered the precious cargo at a stately seven knots along a silver watery path lit by the autumn sun. The vessel, with wine tanks concealed in 20ft containers, was heading for a bottling plant 32 miles away at Irlam on the banks of the Manchester ship canal with supplies that would eventually bring cheer to drinkers who buy their favourite New World wine from Tesco.

The company made quite a song and dance about this maiden voyage, claiming it is now the “first major UK retailer to start transporting freight by canal”.

But Sainsburys niftily reminded everyone that it has already carried out trials in London, dispatching goods to a shop from a distribution centre via the Thames.

Until two years ago, Tesco’s wine from Australia, California, Chile and Argentina used to arrive at ports in southern England in bottles. Then the company switched to bulk tanks (saving 15,840kg of imported glass), with the wine transported north by road.

Now the wine is shipped into Liverpool’s Royal Seaforth dock and transferred to 20ft containers each holding the equivalent of 32,000 75cl bottles of wine. The barge will shuttle up and down the river and ship canal three times a week, with the journeys, according to Tesco, taking 50 lorries off the road every week and cutting carbon emissions by 80%.

…”This move will be like taking a step back to the pre-car days of the late Victorian era, when a lot of cargo was still transported by canal,” said Laurie McIlwee, the supermarket chain’s distribution director. “
(19 October 2007)
Water transport is much more efficient than land transport. I didn’t think we’d see a revival of canals and barges until later. -BA

Transport titan’s plea for $5b rail project

Geoff Easdown, Courier Mail (Australia)
TRANSPORT titan Paul Little last night called for a $5 billion inland Brisbane-Melbourne rail link to offset the nation’s heavy reliance on oil.

Mr Little’s plea came as oil on world markets hit a new high of $US89 a barrel, sparking renewed concern about the likelihood of price rises affecting a broad range of industries.

Saul Eslake, the ANZ’s chief economist, warned that the hurt resulting from the oil spiral would go well beyond a likely 5¢-a-litre rise at petrol bowsers.

“It also means higher input costs to a wide range of industries, from farmers to petrochemical and plastics manufacturers and to airlines,” he said.

“Those who are confronted with higher transport costs will seek to recover them from their customers by raising prices. In other words it is potentially inflationary.”

Mr Little, chief executive of transport and logistics giant Toll Holdings, said that building the long needed Melbourne-Brisbane rail link would generate significant savings, in fuel consumption and environmental emissions.
(19 October 2007)

Global Sourcing: Is It Really Worth It?

John Brockwell, SDCExec
“Is global sourcing really worth it?”

For a variety of reasons, executives at many companies are reconsidering whether or not they should be buying products from international sources. Companies are facing higher than expected costs of materials and labor, a declining U.S. dollar and rising fuel prices, while some are experiencing the persistent quality issues that we continue to read about in today’s headlines.

Concerns regarding quality affect consumer choices. A Reuters/Zogby poll recently released on September 19 found that 78 percent of Americans worry about the safety of Chinese imports, and 25 percent have stopped buying food from China. In the poll, 35 percent of respondents were “very worried” and 43 percent were “somewhat worried” about the safety of Chinese goods.
(19 October 2007)