Traffic congestion in Melbourne is becoming a growing problem as the City expands and population rises.  A report by the Victorian Auditor General (VAGO), Managing Traffic Congestion, released last month, highlights the impacts of congestion and provides a series of recommendations to improve congestion management.

Traffic congestion not only increases travel times and cost, it contributes to driver stress, a loss of productivity, loss of amenity and environmental pollution.  If not managed, VAGO warns congestion has the potential to reduce Melbourne’s liveability and attractiveness as a place to invest.

Historically, congestion management solutions have focused on the supply side of the problem.  Building more roads and increasing the capacity of existing roads have been common solutions.  This form of reactive management is largely ineffective and often leads to the cementing of the car culture: additional road use and then demand for more or wider roads.  Current assessments of congestion related proposals do not sufficiently demonstrate how they address both the supply and demand sides of congestion.  The need to incorporate demand side congestion management by integrating land use planning and public transport initiatives is emphasised in the VAGO report.

The VAGO report makes reference to a number of congestion management strategies being undertaken by VicRoads, the Department of Transport and Public Transport Victoria however, the report is critical of the lack of coordination between these strategies and emphasises the need for a comprehensive state-wide approach.  The report warns conversely, that incorporating the Department of Transport’s Network and Services Strategy within the Metropolitan Planning Strategy may weaken the effectiveness of the transport strategy.

Although the report makes a number of recommendations, to substantially decrease congestion on our roads, a series of major investments in public transport and road infrastructure are necessary to meet the objectives.  A shift from supply to demand side solutions will also play a vital role in the future management of congestion.  Supply side management solutions are costly and unsustainable as infrastructure upgrades are unable to keep up with population growth and demand.  A lack of government commitment and funding is resulting in our infrastructure constantly having to ‘catch up’ with growing demand.  As the population continues to grow at a steady rate, we need to anticipate growth in transport use and plan accordingly.  As the report states, an integrated, state-wide, congestion management strategy with clear objectives and targets is urgently needed to reduce congestion on our transport networks.

The full VAGO report can be found at: http://www.audit.vic.gov.au/reports_and_publications/latest_reports/2012-13/20130417-traffic-congestion.aspx