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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Importance of funding active transport infrastructure in Merri-bek budget to 2027

Separated Upfield Bike Path past Moreland Station
On behalf of Climate Action Merribek I sent in a submission to Merri-bek Council on their draft budget 2023-2027 on May 19. You can read the CAMerribek submission in full: Major backtrack on active transport projects in Draft Merri-bek Council Budget jeopardizes Climate Targets.  

Tonight, 29 May 2023, I fronted before Council Budget committee to speak to this presentation. There were a substantial number of submissions on Council Budget, evidently more than half focussed on the need for funding for more active transport infrastructure as a priority with many people opting to speak in person or online to Council on their submission.

My speech is below. As I only had 2 minutes to deliver, I excised a few paragraphs as marked with brackets, and still went slightly over..

There were some excellent presentations from citizens from Glenroy, Fawkner, Coburg North, Coburg, Brunswick West and Brunswick highlighting different facets of the problem, often with personal stories.

I have also included key findings of a new Climate Council report on Decarbonising Transport which support my presentation arguments and that of the CAMerribek submission.

Merribek Council 2023 budget presentation

John Englart, resident of Fawkner, speaking for Climate Action Merribek

Mayor and Councillors: providing more separated and dedicated cycling infrastructure is about providing greater choice to people in local transport, to reduce transport emissions and provide many co-benefits. If you provide the easy ability to cycle safely, more people will do so for the benefit of us all.

[If you remember back 10-15 years ago with the reticence of governments to support renewable energy, many households chose to put solar panels on their roofs. Australia is now a global leader in residential solar installations. People lead.]

During the pandemic my neighbours invested in electric scooters for their teenage kids. Another neighbour down the street with kindergarten aged children invested in a long-tail e-bike to take the kids to kinder, to the local shops. Where are the safe cycling routes for these kids to ride independently, safely to school when they are older?

[Merribek Transport emissions make up 16 per cent of total community emissions. 95 per cent are on-road emissions. ]

[About 55 per cent of the car fleet for 2030 is already in existence. Transition to EVs needs to be encouraged but is  insufficient to meet climate targets]

Council has set ambitious climate targets: 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, net zero by 2035, drawdown by 2040, including prioritising sustainable transport in the current 5 year action plan.

Without building the infrastructure to encourage mobility mode shift behaviours, Council is unlikely to achieve the community climate targets it set for 2030 or 2035, especially in transport emissions.

The IPCC 6th assessment report: greater adoption of walking and cycling is one of the largest actions to reduce personal carbon footprint that can be achieved.

The Victorian State Government Climate Transport Pledge (2021) set 25 per cent share of all trips in Melbourne by active transport by 2030.

The Victorian Cycling Strategy 2018-28 stresses the importance of  “initiatives that will result in more direct, separated cycle paths.

[83 per cent of people in Merribek are in the cycling category of ‘interested but concerned’, according to Monash University Researchers funded by VicHealth]

There is available $210 million funding by Victorian Government in the Budget over next 4 years in the Safe Local Roads and Streets Program to enable councils to apply for funding for a range of upgrade projects 

But Merri-bek Council, Other than the O’Hea street extension, has no separated or dedicated cycling projects in the Capital Works pipeline in the next 4 years that are shovel and design ready to apply for this funding.

[Councillors: Will you preside over a budget that pays homage to rhetoric of Council Strategic Directives and ambitious climate targets, while underfunding essential capital works actions in the transport space to meet those targets?]



What are the in depth arguments for decarbonising transport?

The Climate Council released a new report, Shifting Gears: The Path to Cleaner Personal Transport, on the 22nd May 2023. It is worth reading at least the key findings and recommendations below, if not the full report.

Key findings:

1. For Australia to meet its climate obligations, we need to fundamentally transform our transport system so everyone can get around easily and safely. Right now, a car-dependent system run on fossil fuels is harming our health, hip pockets and the environment.

  • Climate change is accelerating with deadly consequences, as are transport emissions in Australia. We need to rapidly reverse this trend if we are to avoid further climate harm.
  • Transport is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Cars and light commercial vehicles make up 62 percent of these emissions, therefore personal transport is the focus of this report.
  • Australia’s transport system is highly polluting by global standards, with more registered vehicles (20.1 million) than we have people who are licensed to drive them (18.7 million). Our car-dominated transport system cost more than 1,100 road crash deaths in 2021 and potentially thousands more in premature deaths from air pollution.
  • Alongside this, pollution from vehicles is linked to more than 12,000 people being hospitalised with cardiovascular issues, more than 6,800 people being hospitalised with respiratory issues and 66,000 cases of childhood asthma each year.

2. Global sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles are in structural decline, but to clean up Australia’s transport system, we will need to go beyond simply replacing existing vehicles with electric ones.

  • The sale of vehicles powered by petrol and diesel are considered to be in structural decline, having peaked at 86 million sales in 2017.
  • In 2022, one in every seven passenger cars sold around the world was an electric vehicle, up from one in every 70 in 2017.
  • To decarbonise the transport sector, the way we get around must transform from the majority of trips occurring via private vehicle to most happening on public transport or in an active way (such as walking, bike riding, scooting and rolling). This is also known as ‘mode shift’.
  • Alongside this, electric vehicles and shared and community transport should be affordable and available to those who need them most, such as people with a disability, older people, and those living in outer-suburban, regional, rural and remote areas.
  • There is enormous potential for more Australians to get around in active ways. More than two million trips taken by car every day in Sydney are less than two kilometres in length, while in Melbourne half of all weekday trips are under 4.7 kilometres and most of these occur in a car.

3. To make it easier for Australians to increase their use of active and public transport for travel, decision makers need to apply visionary thinking and planning.

  • Under all emissions reduction scenarios the Climate Council modelled, a major and dramatic shift in the way most people get around is required.
  • This includes a scenario that is in line with existing national economy-wide emissions reduction plans of 43 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels), as well as a transformational scenario in line with a scienc ealigned and economy-wide emissions reduction target of 75 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels).
  • This will not only require a mindset shift in the way we design transport policies, but also in the way we plan and design our cities and communities so more people are better connected to the services they need and want.
  • Change at this scale would not only cut a quarter of our overall transport emissions, but would also improve our health and wellbeing, and make our communities much more enjoyable to live in.
  • When expanding sustainable transport options, there should be a clear commitment to accessibility, affordability, and equity of access by putting the diverse needs of all Australians front and centre.

4. By the end of this decade, we should be aiming to more than halve the number of car trips that Australians make. This can be achieved by significant investment in electrified public transport and well-connected infrastructure for active modes like walking and cycling. We need this investment to enable 3.5 times more trips to be made on public transport, and 3 times more trips to be made using active modes.

  • We have the solutions we need to do this, but it will require a structural shift in transport investment and design that prioritises active and public modes of transport, together with far greater investment, and changes in land use planning.
  • Building on current commitments, the Climate Council recommends developing a National Transport Decarbonisation Plan to guide this. The plan should set mode shift targets to reduce car dependence on the scale required to rapidly reduce transport emissions. This should prioritise the transport needs of marginalised and vulnerable community groups.
  • Investment in public and active transport will need to dramatically increase from the pitiful two percent of transport budgets, or less, that most governments spend today. The Climate Council recommends half of all transport budgets be dedicated to public transport, and 20 percent to active forms of transport in line with international best practice. All new investment should include commitments for inclusive and accessible transport and infrastructure.
  • This needs to be coupled with a review and reform of all transport pricing, including road charges to disincentivise car travel (such as congestion charges) and measures to ensure that public, shared and community transport is affordable for all.
  • To maximise emissions reductions, we need to electrify all public transport by 2035 at the latest, and ideally by the end of this decade.
  • For trips that still need to be made by car, putting in place strong fuel efficiency standards will be essential for encouraging further uptake of electric vehicles. This needs to be coupled with equity considerations to ensure those who need electric vehicles most – such as people with a disability or older people – are able to obtain them.

5. We have the solutions we need to decarbonise personal transport, and it is a transformation all Australians can be a part of and benefit from.

  • Moving to zero emissions vehicles and enabling more people to chose public and active transport options will mean safer streets, cleaner, healthier air and less pollution – particularly in our cities – with tremendous public health benefits.
  • Many Australians are reliant on cars because our public and active transport infrastructure is often inadequate, which increases the costs of getting around. It is estimated we get a $2 return for every dollar invested in active transport infrastructure.
  • Substantially increasing investment to improve and rapidly expand active and public transport options means greater choice for Australians in how they get around. Zero emissions transport needs to be equitably distributed and affordable.
  • Active travel going forward means the prioritisation of pedestrians and bike riders on roads, with paths which are connected, safe, and given ample space separated from traffic, use of bike and scooter sharing programs, uptake of light electric vehicles (such as e-bikes) and walking and biking school buses to name a few.
  • Public transport needs to be electrified, affordable, accessible, reliable and frequent. It should be given priority on roads, with networks designed to accommodate diverse destinations, and incorporate modes like on-demand and community transport.
  • Electric vehicles need to be more available and affordable, with support for things such as ridehailing, car sharing, and including smaller electric vehicles, such as sit-on scooters, motorbikes and micro cars.
  • Transport systems that are focused on public transport and active ways of getting around create more connected and equitable communities. Places where more people have viable transport options have fewer barriers to work, education and engaging in community life.


Climate Council, 22 May 2023, Shifting Gears: The Path to Cleaner Personal Transport, 

Zero Carbon Merri-bek Climate Emergency Action Plan 2020/21 – 2024/25, Revised February 2022 (to reflect 2035 target adopted by Council on 8 December 2021) and October 2022 (to reflect municipality re-naming to Merri-bek).—climate-emergency-action-plan-2020-21—2024-25—updated-october-2022.pdf

Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte, as quoted by Extend the Upfield Bike Path Blog, (4 June, 2022) What does the IPCC 6th assessment climate report say on cycling, and addressing local Melbourne transport mode shift,

Cutting Victoria’s emissions 2021–2025 Transport sector emissions reduction pledge, May 2021.

Victorian Cycling Strategy 2018-28 (December 2017)

Peason et al (2023) Barriers and enablers of bike riding for transport and recreational purposes in Australia

Pearson et al (March 2022), The potential for bike riding across entire cities: Quantifying spatial variation in interest in bike riding, Journal of Transport & Health, Volume 24, March 2022, 101290,

All images courtesy of Climate Council reports.

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