Melbourne’s green, but now mean too?

City of Melbourne Councillor Richard Foster writes: Re. “Mayne: forget bike bans, is Melbourne killing car-sharing?” (Friday). If you listen to the three current operators of car share schemes in Melbourne (Greenshare, Flexicar and Go Get), you’d be forgiven for concluding that Melbourne is an inward-looking, moribund and backward place to live. You could easily be left thinking that the city council stifles business growth in the interests of protecting its precious revenue, that it sees no need whatsoever to reduce vehicle traffic in the CBD, and that it believes that it adequately contributes to environmental sustainability by refilling Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s fountain pen instead of using those disposable types.

Of course, those conclusions would be wrong.  Melbourne is among the most livable cities on the planet because of its innovations in city design that relentlessly promote sustainability.  The city council’s own 6 Green Star rated building has won no less than 17 national and international awards, the city’s urban forest now consists of well over 70,000 trees, and sustainable transport solutions remain a focus of the council’s Transport Strategy.

There’s no doubt that car share schemes reduce the need for car ownership and offer a suite of advantages to the community. These schemes are usually convenient, cost effective and, with the ongoing growth of the current schemes in Melbourne, you’d assume they’re profitable. Yet the three Melbourne car share operators are asking the Melbourne City Council to subsidise their businesses by reducing the cost of using on-street parking spaces. Council staff suggested three costing options: the first offering entirely cost-free parking to operators, the second being a half-way-house where the Council gets some of its money back and requires operators to provide two off-street spaces for every on-street space it provides, and the third requiring operators to pay the full cost of each on-street parking space they use. On Tuesday, Councillors chose the second option. Here’s why I voted for it.

If a business wants access to tax payers’ money, I reckon a very persuasive case needs to be put. What we heard from the three car share operators on Tuesday was something like this. Flexicar likened its business to a public transport operator and described the second option, preferred by councillors, as “absurd”. Greenshare said it was a “fragile” start-up operation, that it was currently losing $15,000 per month and had been for three years. GoGet said it would pass on any cost increases to its customers. When asked if GoGet would reduce its fees if the Council reduced its charges, it was strangely non-committal.

The common arguments across all three operators seemed to be that these schemes reduce car ownership, and consequently traffic congestion, and the convenience of the schemes means that the Council owes them something. Firstly, car share schemes are not like other forms of public transport. Why? Because as Robert Doyle pointed out on Tuesday, tram and train operators pay enormous licencing fees to the state government. Similarly, taxi plates don’t come cheap.

Secondly, if you’re a business losing $15,000 per month for three years, you’re already struggling to maintain a faint pulse.

Thirdly, passing on the costs of doing business to your customers is pretty common place – I’ll come back to that later.

No-one has yet been able to tell me of another business that is financially supported like this by ratepayers. I’m sure there’s hundreds of businesses in Melbourne that could claim that their product or service benefits humankind somehow, but none are demanding that ratepayers inject ratepayers’ money to prop them up. Greenshare said that it wouldn’t be able to continue trading if the Council charged them any more for parking, thus confirming that Darwin’s theory also applies in the commercial world.

If parking fees to car share operators are increased later this month by Council, it will end like a night out with Ben Cousins; after a lot of hysteria, some flashing lights and a media splash, by the next day no-one will quite remember what actually happened and nor will they care, such will be the net consequence to most car share users as well as the broader community.

I think the most sensible argument so far from a car share operator belongs to GoGet. When talking about the effects of increased parking charges, they said that local residents would suffer by paying more to use their car share scheme. So, in the end there are two choices; the first is that residents forego yearly parking revenue to the tune of $4,500 per space, the second is that they pay more if they want to hire a car.

Residents using the car share schemes may need to pay slightly more to drive a car if the parking increases are adopted, but residents choosing other modes of transport (including bikes and public transport) would be no worse off. This makes a lot of sense. In the absence of any new, sensible arguments from the car share people, this seems to be the most reasonable outcome.

Cr Richard Foster is Chair of the People City portfolio and  Deputy Chair of the Transport portfolio for City of Melbourne.

Pollies and their porkie pies

John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “Porkies: the biggest broken promises in Australian politics” (yesterday). I’ll leave it to Lib supporters to answer for their side but I have to say most of the  broken promises attributed to Labor people seem a bit far fetched. Gillard was stitched up by Abbott and a complicit media regarding the so called carbon “tax”. Carbon taxes as applied elsewhere are generally levied at a retail level on goods and services like the GST.  When Abbott broke one of many promises and did a deal with the Greens to kill Labor’s emissions trading scheme she brought in a government set price on carbon as a preliminary step to a future ETS.

In Rudd’s case walking away from an ETS in the face of opposition from the right and the extreme left in parliament hardly justifies calling his decision a broken promise.  The treatment Gillard got  for  persisting and even your story which seems to conflate the two concepts more than justifies his pragmatic call.

Hawke’s “promise” that “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty” was, as he has admitted, an unscripted departure from his written speech.  Caught up in the moment he turned an aspiration “that by 1990 no child need be living in poverty” into a promise. In today’s politics he could have invoked the Abbott doctrine about scripted and unscripted remarks.

As for Curtin, how anyone could label his war time change of mind  on conscription  a broken promise given the impending threat of a Japanese invasion is beyond me.

The media wrings its hands about the state of modern politics and its lack of openness yet never misses a chance to exploit a gotcha moment no matter how flimsy the justification.  Every news room should carry a sign that says that before labelling a change of mind a backflip, broken promise or lie look at the facts and whether they support the new position. As renowned economist John Maynard Keynes reportedly once said in response  to a critic who accused him of flip flopping: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir …?”

Rundle and renewable energy

Peter Matters writes: Re. “Rundle: Abbott’s gutting of renewables is not just dumb, it’s treason” (yesterday). With respect to Guy Rundle, that mob are not traitors — they are victims. It is the fate of reactionaries to be totally in thrall of their bag full of hang-ups caused by pseudo-religious edicts long past their use-by date and dinned into them from birth. As the predominant effect of such early experiences, the victims’ brains are hardwired into the distant past, because they are so scared of the future — or even the present — that they instinctively banning both from their brains. The poor beggars are not monsters, they are quite often decent enough people – Abbott certainly is – and also intelligent. Their misfortune is the obvious fact that the brain, being an organ of the human body, is more often dominated by their emotional irrationality than their inherent intelligence. In short, it is not only more humane but also makes more practical political sense to treat Abbott and co. as humans, not ogres.

Richard Middleton writes: Excellent piece today.  A suitable title for Abbott and Co would be Eco-Terrorist. We could then find them guilty of eco terrorism through their ignorant denialism, strip them of their citizenships, passports and leave them to enjoy the tropical ambience and hospitality of the locals on Manus. We can send Mr Bolt along to keep his friends company. Oh joy of dreams.

Talking of technology available, perhaps you could bring to people’s attention the efforts of Beyond Zero Emissions to introduce an entire ‘ecosystem’ of clean solar and wind energy based technologies (with a small amount of biomass for dull, windless days). The key is an upgraded DC distribution system and the storage for base-load. They propose hot salt. However, that may be superseded by hot block storage.

This technology is deployable now, would employ thousands to construct and maintain, would revitalise rural areas and generate even more jobs, use our surplus ores and if we were to build enough capacity, we could become an exporter of clean electricity to Asia.. The only losers are the filthy fossil fuel purveyors and burners. The already declining number of people employed in those industries could redeploy to this industry.

Australia receives 1.4 kWatts of solar energy per square metre of surface on a sunny day. We could become the richest nation in the entire world by utilising this. All it takes is the brains to understand. The cost? Approx $300 billion or $30 billion per annum for 10 years. A lot of money, yes, but less than the cost to Australia of burning filthy fossil fuels, which is approx $50 billion per annum. This infrastructure could be funded by any one of a number of ingenious and profitable arrangements. For instance, the government funds say 60% and the public can fund the remainder through investment bonds. I would be very happy to buy solar bonds through my superfund and look at the size of the super pool in this country. Just think of the benefits!

Glen Frost writes: Rundle is 100% correct on his energy article (as well as highlighting Fran Kelly’s great response to Gerard Henderson’s Luddite-like love of coal). The solar industry have a term for the rise of solar and how that will stuff the economics of the traditional grid operators:  they call it “the death spiral”,  whereby more and more people switch to rooftop solar, leaving less and less people buying from an ageing network of carbon polluting power stations. The economics are obvious; as less people are on the old grid network, there are less people to share the costs (mostly fixed), so people on the old grid pay more. Not sustainable (either environmentally or economically) hence they’re in a death spiral.

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