I’m keenly aware of the irony of having praised Vancouver’s driverless metro on the very day that Sydney’s driverless metro proposal was declared dead by the city’s main newspaper. I’m also aware that as part of the team that authored the Independent Inquiry (now widely called the Christie Report) which recommends postponing Sydney’s metro project, I could be misunderstood as saying that what’s good enough for Vancouver isn’t good enough for Sydney.
The Christie Report’s recommendation to postpone the Sydney metro is not a view about driverless metros at all. It’s an assessment of the relative priority of this project compared to several other urgent projects on Sydney’s electric commuter rail system. Another key finding — not reported widely enough in the press — is that there is room to improve frequencies on Sydney’s existing rail system to get more of a “metro” effect, though labor cost will always limit what can be offered late at night. More fundamentally, the report’s view is that the Sydney metro proposal was premature given the urgent need to make best use of the existing rail system.
Ultimately, the failure of the Sydney metro proposal, if that is indeed what happens, reflects severe problems with how the state government goes about planning major infrastructure. The practice has been to create a new autonomous agency to pursue each project, and to operate each type of technology, inevitably setting those agencies in conflict with one another. In the future, transit infrastructure planning needs to be the work of a single agency that thinks about all the possible modes, including busways, ferries electric commuter rail, and eventually driverless metro. The need for such an agency is, in many respects, the single most important recommendation of our Inquiry.
Note: I will be largely off the grid over the weekend, back Monday Australian time.