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Smarter ways to use existing infrastructure

Overextended infrastructure, like congested freeways or overcrowded hospital emergency departments, often leads to calls for governments to solely address problems by building more infrastructure. However, the results of building new infrastructure can be complicated. Some new infrastructure is needed to manage population and demand growth. But building more infrastructure and facilities can make them easier and faster to use, attracting more people to use them. When places become more attractive, with extra facilities or faster transport options, more people gravitate to them. This phenomenon means that just building new infrastructure does not always lead to greater spare capacity and reduced congestion.

Much infrastructure is heavily used for short periods, and is largely underused at other times. For instance, many roads and public transport services are heavily congested for short periods each weekday morning and afternoon peak, but not fully used at other times during the week. Victoria’s energy networks are built to manage heavy use for a few hours each year but have spare capacity at other times. Some ageing government facilities can be infrequently used, while some social services do not have enough well-designed space. But these problems are opportunities for new solutions. For this reason, this strategy is more than a list of new infrastructure projects. It makes recommendations that encourage people to change the way they use and maintain infrastructure. Using different technologies to meet people’s needs, encouraging and rewarding people to change their infrastructure use, and better maintaining and modernising the infrastructure that already exists, can help slow the demand for new infrastructure. The infrastructure that Victoria already has will need to accommodate most future growth. The COVID-19 pandemic showed Victorians are adaptable and capable of changing their behaviour. Changing how people use and manage infrastructure often pays the highest dividends in the long term. Reducing the need for new infrastructure also usually costs less, meaning more resources are available for other important purposes.

Plan infrastructure and land use together

This strategy calls attention to the deep connections between land use and infrastructure planning. The locations where people live, work, socialise, recreate and shop is what creates demand for infrastructure. This means clearly identifying places intended to accommodate growth, and making infrastructure sector plans transparent and available, so the process of integrating land use and infrastructure planning can proceed from an informed basis. For example, to better plan and make more use of infrastructure, this strategy recommends: 

Publishing transparent sectoral plans for infrastructure, allowing better coordination and optimisation of infrastructure (recommendation 32) 
Clearly identifying the locations for new housing in established suburbs and reviewing planning settings to allow denser housing in them (recommendation 35)
  Prioritising and overseeing infrastructure delivery in new growth areas and priority urban renewal precincts (recommendation 72). 

Get more from transport infrastructure

The Victorian Government can make many changes that allow existing transport infrastructure to carry more passengers and move more vehicles. New digital road management systems and automated vehicles can potentially allow many more cars to use the same roads, while having some of the highest returns on investment. Redesigning the bus network with new ‘next generation’ services can make catching a bus equally attractive to travelling on trains and trams, expanding space-efficient public transport use, and reaching more Victorians.

Reclassifying bus routes will help to define the role, purpose and function of routes within the network and prioritise network investment. Reconfiguring roads can expand their carrying capacity by encouraging more efficient transport options, like walking, cycling or public transport. In Victoria’s regions, we can create more useful public transport services that better meet local needs. For example, this strategy recommends:

Integrating road management systems so roads and public transport flow more freely and operate more smoothly (recommendation 24)
Delivering road space reallocation initiatives to better support priority movements through streets and places (recommendation 41) Reshaping bus networks with new ‘next generation’ bus services (recommendation 57)
  Incrementally expanding the capacity of suburban rail corridors, to carry more people and provide better service (recommendation 59) 
Redesigning regional public transport to focus on local needs (recommendation 83). 

This strategy is more than a list of new infrastructure projects. It makes recommendations that encourage people to change the way they use and maintain infrastructure. The infrastructure that Victoria already has will need to accommodate most future growth, and changing how people use and manage infrastructure pays the highest dividends in the long term

Encourage beneficial travel choices

The Victorian Government can encourage people to make transport choices that also benefit other people. While more transport options and better services clearly affect people’s transport choices, better pricing systems can also reward people for travelling more thoughtfully of the effects on others. For example, this strategy recommends:

  Changing public transport fares to encourage people to select travel options that most benefit everyone, including by permanently discounting off-peak travel (recommendation 45), reducing bus and tram fares (recommendation 46), and removing the free tram zone (recommendation 47) 
Introducing congestion pricing on Victoria’s road networks, including by trialling a congestion charge in inner Melbourne (recommendation 52), using off-peak tolls on new freeways (recommendation 51) and eventually moving to a comprehensive road pricing system (recommendation 53)
Reforming parking charges, including by further changes to parking prices in inner Melbourne (recommendation 49), and beginning to charge for parking at transport hubs (recommendation 50). 

Manage energy demand

Improving the energy efficiency of Victorian homes and workplaces reduces the energy needed to heat and cool them. This in turn reduces the need to build more electricity infrastructure, translating to lower energy bills. Energy efficiency also reduces emissions and makes the energy transition easier, including by helping manage extra demand from electrification of the transport and gas sectors. More flexible electricity prices, combined with using new technologies, can also help reduce and manage this demand.

For example, this strategy recommends:

  Increasing the energy efficiency of new homes (recommendation 5) 
Encouraging energy efficiency upgrades of existing homes by mandating home energy rating disclosure (recommendation 6), and increasing minimum energy efficiency standards for rental homes (recommendation 7)
Improving the energy efficiency of Victorian Government buildings (recommendation 8) 
Continuing electricity pricing reforms to help manage demand on energy infrastructure (recommendation 9). 

Manage water and waste more efficiently

Similarly, considering all options for new water sources could deliver extra water at lower cost. Better management of water resources, like stormwater and recycled water, can help stretch the water supply and minimise the need to source more water. We can minimise the amount of waste we produce, and reuse waste materials more effectively. For example, this strategy recommends: 

Giving equal consideration to all water supply options, including purified recycled water for drinking, desalination, stormwater harvesting and moving water between Victoria’s regions (recommendation 13) 
Clarifying policy settings to allow the better use of stormwater and recycled water (recommendation 14).
Strengthening end markets for recycled materials, helping to reuse waste effectively (recommendation 29) 
Minimising production of waste in the first place (recommendation 31). 

Use technology and innovation to deliver better services

Infrastructure demand is in part driven by how effectively people use it. If people can provide more services using the same amount of infrastructure, less infrastructure is needed overall. Innovation and changes in technology can help achieve this. For instance, new ways of treating patients at home, or with shorter hospital stays can reduce the hospital capacity required. Better court infrastructure can more frequently use digital and telepresence technologies in the justice system, meaning fewer courts may ultimately be needed. Existing infrastructure, like schools, can be used to help meet the other needs of children, such as remotely connecting them to health specialists with the support of a local health worker. For example, this strategy recommends:

Using innovation to deliver better models of health care (recommendation 25) 
Modernising courts through digitisation and contemporary facilities (recommendation 26)
Using rural schools to host supported telehealth appointments (recommendation 87).

Institute better maintenance and asset management

Keeping infrastructure in good working condition can reduce the need to upgrade and rebuild it, but much of Victoria’s infrastructure is ageing and becoming run-down. Many regional roads and freight rail networks are in poor condition and need upgrading. Much social housing stock and many community facilities are reaching the end of their working lives and will require replacement. Better maintaining these assets, upgrading them to modern accessibility and energy efficiency standards, and redesigning them for contemporary service needs, means we can extend their useful life and will not need to rebuild them so often. For example, this strategy recommends: 

Improved regional road maintenance (recommendation 78) and freight rail network development and maintenance (recommendation 79)
Renewal and upgrade of social housing stock (recommendation 55), including for energy efficiency (recommendation 94)
Planning for multipurpose shared community facilities (recommendation 88), and better asset management of community infrastructure (recommendation 89).
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