In the Victorian capital, the stakes have never been higher for rethinking its transport networks. With soaring population growth (the city is set for a population of eight or even 10 million by 2050 – double the current population) how the city’s overloaded transport infrastructure will cope is key to its future livability.

Wouldn’t it be great to link kilometres cycled with a special tax incentive, health rebates or cheaper car insurance?

According to Infrastructure Victoria, traffic congestion is costing Melburnians $4.6 billion a year – representing $1,000 per head – and that cost is predicted to double to $10.8 billion by 2030.

It’s a situation that demands some radical solutions, not least reducing the number of cars on the roads, and for one of Victoria’s top transport planners, encouraging cycling for commuters should be high on the agenda.

With federal and state government infrastructure finance targeted elsewhere, George Eleftheriadis, Manager of Transport Infrastructure in Melbourne for global engineering company SMEC, says embracing private enterprise to drive schemes for cyclists could make all the difference.

“I believe there’s a case for a user-pays model for new dedicated cycling infrastructure as part of wider sustainable transport strategy across Melbourne, and by dedicated, I mean carefully planned, designed and built with the cyclist in mind,” says Eleftheriadis, whose daily commute by bike to work has spurred his thinking.

“I’ve become used to the risks, but for people considering switching from car to bicycle, due to the risks and stress, the incentives are limited. It’s clear we need to invest time and resources to transform cycling in our city, and to create infrastructure that will make it a safer, more attractive option.
“My ride to work and back is under 10 km, and on each trip I spend more time either watching for errant car doors, stopped at traffic lights and looking out for cars and pedestrians than I would in more cycle-friendly cities.”

Some may baulk at the idea of tolled cycleways, but in the cash-strapped infrastructure space Eleftheriadis believes alternative approaches need to be considered. “The concept of user-pays is certainly not foreign to Australia’s transport network, and if it works for cars, why not bicycles?” he says.

Eleftheriadis’ vision includes a cycleway with end-to-end facilities that allow for easy connection to public transport.

With only one per cent of train passengers cycling to a train station currently, providing bicycle parking and cycling access to stations would greatly expand the reach of the public transport network.

One model for such a project is the Chinese city of Xiamen which opened a 7.6 km aerial cycleway earlier this year – the world’s longest.

With eleven exits and connections to six public transport hubs, the nearly five-metre-wide cycleway allows for hiring bikes along the route and provides bike parking.

In recent years, developers in London proposed the SkyCycle project, a 220 km elevated cycle way to run above London’s suburban rail network. The SkyCycle network is targeted at the almost six million people who live within its catchment area, half of whom live and work within 10 minutes of an entrance. Designed to accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour, the project with its whopping price tag of £8 billion (A$13.3 billion), is yet to get off the ground. Meanwhile Transport for London is advancing two more modest five km ‘cycle superhighways’ designed to improve safety and comfort for cyclists.

‘Doing the maths’ to ensure radical ideas like dedicated cycling infrastructure can be realised is of course central to realising such a vision.

As to how a user-pays scheme for a cycleway in Melbourne might work, Eleftheriadis points to mobile phone contracts as a model.

“You could pay by the month, annual subscription or even a pay-as-you-go service. Wouldn’t it be great to link kilometres cycled with a special tax incentive, health rebates or cheaper car insurance? If you can salary sacrifice a motor vehicle than why not a bicycle?”