Why does transport deserve its own conference, its own government department and delivery agencies, its own trade journals, academic journals and books? The reason is not because transport is valued particularly in its own right. Instead, transport is a critical means to an end; in fact, to a multiplicity of ends. Transport services enable people to access necessities, amenities and employment.
Transport services are critical inputs for firms in order to raise their productivity by enabling access to employees, suppliers, materials and markets. Regions that offer productive opportunities, and where people wish to live, need reliable transport services to cater for an influx of people and firms. If transport acts as a bottleneck in the face of increased demand, the increase in people, firms and production will be stifled and stay below potential. Accordingly, provision of transport services to enable firms and individuals make the most of productive opportunities and amenities increases incomes and general wellbeing.
These increases are not limited to the incomes and wellbeing just of existing residents. Population follows opportunities; thus South-East Queensland and Victoria (especially Melbourne) are investing heavily in transport infrastructure in order to facilitate the flow of extra population into their regions. By the same token, however, provision of superfluous transport services will not make a make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Bridge to Nowhere in the Whanganui valley could not transform uneconomic land into prosperous pasture.
It is imperative, therefore, that we think strategically about the availability of transport services and the demands that will be placed on them. Given the longevity of many transport routes, this strategic thinking has to be conducted over a long-term horizon. Furthermore, since the thinking must be long-term, we cannot restrict analysis solely to expected outcomes; we must also consider how judicious investments may create options for future developments.