How to get Utility Companies to play fair?

…Don’t rely on the intervention of the government and approach them directly of course.

It’s long been the bane of Sydney riders that freshly-laid infrastructure – a kerb ramp, shared path, a road re-sheet or even a cycleway –  is undermined by a trench-dig of one of the big utility (water, gas, electricity) companies.  Riders are forever having to deal with uneven road surfaces and those dreaded trench-edge ridges that sit right on the riding line.  It’s the last thing you need when you’re avoiding the “door zone” on your left and managing passing traffic on your right.

Rider frustration around the lack of coordination between the digging works of various agencies is one of the most common complaints we receive at BIKESydney.  It seems obvious to riders repeated trench digs should be able to be avoided by having the agencies coordinate their works programs – particularly as the programs are often set 6-18 months in advance.

From its seat on the City of Sydney’s Traffic Committee, BIKESydney has also called regularly for the City and agencies to coordinate their works programs.  Alas, to no avail.

“What gives?”

The key issue is the fact that the utility companies are beholden to no one.  Their function is enabled by legislation at the highest level in the state and so they can proceed with their programs without recourse, without the responsibility to engage with other agencies and Councils.  This is not to say that they don’t, just that they don’t have to.  There are many instances of the Utilities working collaboratively with Councils.  But! there’s room for improvement.

Waiting for a change to State legislation is a forlorn hope.  Why would the Utilities give up their autonomy?


There are progressive moves in some Utility companies.  Ausgrid (Sydney) for example, has shown itself to be responsive to our calls for better coordination.  BIKESydney has engaged with Ausgrid over the last year on the Homebush to Rozelle Cable Project which looks to replace underground electricity cables that are almost 50 years old.


2014-09-03 - Homebush Bay to Rozelle Project


Along the way, our engagement with Ausgrid has broadened to also investigate opportunities to:

  • Be engaged at a high level and at concept design stages of future projects rather than only during the implementation phase;
  • Where possible, inform the route selection of proposed pipelines so as to have them either avoid key cycling routes or otherwise develop them by having restorative works address known cycling barriers (eg, removing fences, upgrading a path or introducing a new bridge path etc);
  • Develop Ausgrid’s knowledgebase of existing and future cycling routes, desire lines, and barriers as a layer in its GIS system;
  • Participate in the coordination of Ausgrid’s works with those of other agencies (eg, RMS, Gas, Electricity) and councils. Why have the same path ripped up two or three times in quick succession?  A cross-agency planning forum would bring program and costs efffciencies as well as better leverage government capital expenditure. The value-add of the community members would be to bring awareness of local infrastructure plays and works (as often the Council representatives charged with delivering cycling infrastructure will not be called into such meetings);
  • Ensure that the road and path surfaces affected Ausgrid’s projects (involving trenching) are restored to a quality suitable for cycling, not merely motoring.  Key themes for cyclists here are avoiding the creation of ridge lines and uneven surface finishes;
  • Create a simple advisory or technical direction to guide Ausgrid’s “make-good” works everywhere. The advisory would focus on themes such as placement of trenches, repairing trenches, avoiding subsidence);
  • Learn more about the timing and sequencing of works so that we might keep the cycling community apprised of progress and suggest suitable detour routes,
  • Better understanding Ausgrid’s constraints with view to more productive and effective collaborations, and to optimise the chance for good cycling outcomes.


From Ausgrid’s perspective, engagement with the cycling community would bring:

  • “on the ground”/community expertise (the end-user experience);
  • the buy-in of the ever-aware cycling community, and
  • intelligence on compatible grass-roots and Council programs and initiatives.


The engagement is ongoing.


Indeed, there’s a call now for cycling representatives in other parts of Sydney to engage in the same way.  Ausgrid is calling for input from the cycling community around its Homebush to East Ryde cable projects.


2014-09-03 - Homebush Bay to East Ryde areas of interest


A community workshop will be held on 9 September 2014 at the Ryde Eastwood Leagues Club to give interested people and organisations the opportunity to find out more about the project and be part of the early planning process.   Ausgrid will make presentations on topics such as its need to replace the cables, the process of how cable routes are decided and general information on the cable installation process.

The workshop will provide Ausgrid with an opportunity to seek input from the community and this feedback will be used to help us identify preferred cable routes for further consultation.  At a future time, Ausgrid will seek localised feedback on the cable routes.

Email Ausgrid if you would like to attend:

Feedback will be received at any stage of the project.





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Cycling in a liveable Sydney


Phone:+ 61 2 8213 2437

PO Box M59 Missenden Road, Camperdown, NSW, 2050

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