Capital Metro light rail

At a time when everyone in Canberra is talking about budget cuts, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.  And that light could be the Capital Metro light rail.

The $600 million Capital Metro project – with Stage One linking the city to Gungahlin and Dickson Town Centre – has the potential to create jobs, attract investment and provide economic uplift across the capital.

At a time when the capital is facing an employment slump, the light rail project may create thousands of jobs. The NSW Government estimates that the Sydney light rail project will generate 10,000 jobs and add $4 billion to the NSW economy. These jobs aren’t just tram drivers and ticket collectors, but also people in construction, engineering, haulage and retail.

It’s not just about jobs. Light rail has the potential to attract people and businesses into the CBD, enhancing the city’s appeal and creating a more vibrant and liveable capital.

Of course, the devil is in the detail, and the big question is: who will pay for the project?

The property industry is ready to champion Capital Metro, but we need to see costings and budgets, as well as a funding model. The ACT Government is considering the concept of ‘value capture’ – using an increase in land values to raise money for the project, as well as the introduction of a special rating zone.

But, no matter how you look at it, new taxes in the form of increases in rates or through development levies all amount to the same thing: another tax for an already overtaxed industry. To apply another tax to an industry experiencing a significant downturn could have the perverse effect of stifling, rather than stimulating, growth.

While how we fund light rail is up for debate, an integrated public transport system is essential for Canberra’s future as a city of opportunity. The former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, is famous for championing public transport.  As he said: “An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.” 

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia